Blount County Board of Education approves budget that eliminates 84 positions, including 29 layoffs
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
The Blount County Board of Education has approved an $81 million budget that eliminates 84 positions, including an estimated 29 layoffs.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Budget Committee — composed of Director of Schools Rob Britt, fiscal administrator Troy Logan and board Chairman Mike Treadway — presented the budget proposal for fiscal year 2013-14. Treadway made a motion to approve the budget, and Trevis Gardner seconded it.
The recommended budget was slightly different from a budget presented June 27. The school board approved an $81.3 million budget in that earlier meeting, which the County Budget Committee declined July 8 to pass over to the full County Commission.
Since the earlier meeting, school officials have reduced the number of eliminated high school teacher positions. They added back a Heritage High School computer science teaching position and a William Blount High School auto mechanics teaching position, reducing the total number from seven positions to five.
The recommended budget also doesn’t fund a step increase for certified employees, fiscal administrator Troy Logan said. School officials have discussed distributing $350,000 worth of state BEP (Basic Education Program) funds, which are earmarked for certified employee pay increases as a bonus, as a one-time supplement.
However, the Collaborative Conferencing Committee will need to address the item in a future meeting.
Jim Compton later made a motion to reduce the unemployment benefits line item from $170,000 to $100,000 and move $70,000 to the teaching assistant line item. His motion would have funded 16 teaching assistants through the winter break.
System-level administrators might be able to find open positions for the 29 teaching assistants within several months, Compton said. “I’m confident that we’ll be down (in total layoffs) by Christmas.”
Gardner later sought clarification from Britt and Logan.
Britt was apprehensive about the motion. He warned board members that they’d still have to consider layoffs if employees hadn’t found a new position by winter break.
The school district’s unemployment benefits have fluctuated in recent years, Logan said. School officials increased the line item by $120,000, as a result of the teaching assistant layoffs.
He also noted that a fair number of teaching assistants resign each year. However, the fiscal administrator wasn’t sure about this year’s numbers.
Logan advised that 45 teaching assistants resigned between July 2012 and August 2012 and 25 teaching assistants resigned between July 2011 and August 2011. “If the trend continues from these prior years, we’ll have resignations through August.”
Charles Finley and Dr. Don McNelly supported Compton’s motion.
“Instructional assistants are in the classroom,” Finley said. “I don’t want to cut any more than we need to.”
“One of the greatest values that we have is TAs,” McNelly said. “They’re a tremendous value to our lowest-ability children. It doesn’t make sense from an educational point of view to take them out.”
Compton’s motion failed 3-4. Compton, Finley and McNelly voted for it. Gardner, Treadway, Chris Cantrell, and Rob Webb voted against it.
Next steps planned
Compton later made a motion to take $54,206 out of the electricity line item and divvy the funds between athletic supplements and the elementary basketball program. McNelly seconded it.
School officials have addressed the elementary basketball program, Britt said. He’s agreed to let elementary school principals raise money to pay basketball coaching supplements.
Donors will be required to send funds to the Central Office, which will reimburse coaches for their time, he said. Elementary schools have discussed increasing ticket prices from $4 to $5, as well.
After learning about Britt’s agreement, Compton rescinded his motion.
Board members then approved the budget by a 6-1 vote. Compton voted against it.
“We’ll recover from this and move forward,” Treadway said. “We have good administrators, principals and teachers.”
The Collaborative Conferencing Committee will meet within the next two weeks to discuss compensation, said Assistant Director of Schools David Murrell. School officials plan to bring a recommendation back to the school board in September.
System-level administrators plan to discuss the layoffs this morning, he said. Employees who are laid off will be placed on a re-employment list, and principals will be advised to hire employees based on seniority.
BCEA not pleased
The Blount County Education Association wasn’t pleased with the approved budget.
“Once again, we’re balancing the budget on the backs of teachers,” said BCEA President Grady Caskey. “They’ve given us the money from the state, taken away our step increases and increased health insurance by 200 percent to 400 percent for some employees.
“They make these decisions, and we’re told to like it. We also disagree with their numbers. We received $3.7 million in additional state and local funds, including $2 million from the state.”
Board members further approved a compensation plan without conferencing the item, Caskey said. “We didn’t want them to do it. We’ve been down this road.”
In the past three years, BCEA has twice sued the Blount County Board of Education for alleged acts concerning professional employee salaries. In October 2010, BCEA filed a lawsuit against the school board for allegedly unilaterally reducing, or eliminating, teacher pay. In April 2012, BCEA alleged the board violated state law by modifying professional employee salaries in fiscal 2010-11 and 2011-12.