Blount Schools seek balanced $79.7M budget
By Matthew Stewart | The Daily Times
Responding to general disfavor of its initial budget proposal, the Blount County Board of Education has started drafting an amended, balanced $79.7 million budget request.
During Thursday’s called meeting, the school board met to discuss an amended appropriations request for fiscal 2013-14. The board previously approved a $86,868,000 budget appropriations request.
“It’s our strong belief that it reflected the cost of a high-quality education,” said Director of Schools Rob Britt, about the initial appropriations request. “We remain committed to high-quality education. We remain committed to maximizing the academic potential of every child in a safe, personalized way.”
School officials have decided to revise their appropriations request, as a result of discussions with county officials, he said. “It’s evident that we won’t get the money to fill that $8.7 million shortfall. We want to propose a plan on how we might deal with that deficit.”
The Budget Committee recommended $4.2 million worth of cuts, reducing the original budget shortfall to $4.5 million. The committee is composed of Britt, board Chairman Mike Treadway and fiscal administrator Troy Logan.
After Logan explained the cuts to board members and answered their questions, Treadway moved to approve the recommendation. Rob Webb seconded the motion.
Jim Compton later expressed concerns with the cuts, seeking to provide public assurances that the school district would make all personnel cuts through attrition, leave of absence or retirement, if possible.
School officials have a four-year track record of cutting positions through attrition, Britt said. “We’re committed to doing it. We’ll swim the deepest seas, climb the highest mountains to ensure that people aren’t laid off. However, we have to leave that door open, because we don’t know what will happen.”
Compton later moved to put the board’s assurance in the form of a motion. Treadway ruled that the motion wasn’t in order.
Maintenance of effort
Chris Cantrell later questioned Logan about projected revenues.
School officials forecast $78.1 million in budget revenues, Logan said. The district’s $4,539,000 budget shortfall would translate to a 25-cent property tax increase.
Blount County Schools also stands to fail its maintenance of effort test, he said. In the past 12 years, the district has failed the test twice.
Under current law, actual revenues must be at least equal to the system’s current budget. A school system’s adopted budget also must allocate locally contributed funds, excluding capital outlay, in an amount at least equal to the prior year’s budget. If either condition is not met, a school district must set up a BEP reserve.
In order to pass the test’s first part, Blount County Schools needs to receive an additional $2 million in revenue. If the school district doesn’t receive these funds, school officials will be required to designate $2 million for a BEP reserve. Currently, the district doesn’t have enough fund balance to do so.
Blount County Schools also stands to fail the maintenance of effort test’s second part, which would result in the state refusing to approve it. In order to pass it, school officials need to receive an additional $1.6 million.
Cantrell later moved to set the district’s revenues at $79.7 million. His motion assumes the County Commission will approve $1.6 million to meet the test’s second part, keeping them in compliance with state law.
“I truly believe that we’re not going to receive any more money,” he said. “The time to start making plans is now.”
Cantrell further moved that the Budget Committee draft a $79.7 million appropriations request. He also asked that they prioritize cuts and budget requests, creating corresponding tax rate values to fund them.
Compton expressed concerns with Cantrell’s motion. “You’re asking to cut another $3 million. We don’t even know if we can. Are we going to still meet (state) BEP (Basic Education Program) mandates? If we aren’t, we’d be wasting our time, spinning our wheels.”
Cantrell advised that he wasn’t necessarily in favor of approving a $79.7 million appropriations request. “My intent was: ‘What can we do with a $79.7 million budget?’ I think a lot of questions will be answered when we see a $79.7 million budget. I’m not saying we can make it.”
He also wanted to inform community members about potential cuts. “They need to start preparing for it. They need to know what we’re dealing with right now.”
Webb expressed concerns with Cantrell’s motion. “We’ve already seen the pain of these cuts. Are we smart to put the cart before the horse? I’m just thinking that if I see that request as a county commissioner then you’ve told me you can operate on a $79.7 million budget.”
Treadway expressed his own concerns. “I’m not prepared to cut any further than we are now. However, we may be back at this point in a couple months.”
“Does it protect the County Commission from a precarious situation?” said Trevis Gardner. “Does it set us up for failure (of maintenance of effort) next year?”
“I’m not concerned about 12 months from now,” Treadway said. “Does it set us up for failure as an educational system this year?”
Board members approved Cantrell’s motion in a 4-2 vote. Cantrell, Gardner, Webb and Charles Finley voted for it. Compton and Treadway voted against it. Dr. Don McNelly wasn’t present.
Committee members will produce a balanced budget prior to the 6 p.m. March 26 joint budget work session with the County Commission. The meeting will be held at the Central Office, 831 Grandview Drive.