Every school affected: Budget cuts will have significant impact on Blount Schools
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A 2 percent budget cut will have a significant impact on Blount County Schools, according to system-level administrators.
School officials forecast about $81 million in revenues, including the Blount County Budget Committee’s recommendation to move 9 cents of the current property tax rate to education, for fiscal 2013-14. The number represents a nearly 2 percent decrease from the current fiscal year.
The Blount County Board of Education’s Budget Committee — composed of Director of Schools Rob Britt, board Chairman Mike Treadway, and fiscal administrator Troy Logan — has discussed potential cuts and drafted three proposed budgets that will be presented at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Central Office, 831 Grandview Drive.
Committee members have discussed eliminating 84 positions, 34 full-time positions and 50 part-time positions. School officials haven’t determined the total number of layoffs.
Every school will be affected by the cuts, said Assistant Director of Schools David Murrell. A total of 21 teacher positions — seven elementary school, seven middle school, and seven high school — could be eliminated. A total of three art, music and physical education teacher positions could be eliminated, as well.
An elimination of teacher positions will result in shortened planning periods, said Dr. John Dalton, supervisor of pre-K-5 and technology. Elementary teachers will have 30 minutes instead of 40 minutes. Middle school teachers will have 45 minutes year round, losing 45 minutes of planning time every other nine weeks.
Staffing cuts could affect graduation requirements, because core academic and elective programs will be impacted at the middle and high schools, said Dr. Jane Morton, supervisor of instruction for grades 6-12. Staff will experience difficulties in maintaining support and enrichment programs, as well.
System-level administrators have advised middle and high school principals to realize cuts through a combination of core academic and career and technical education (CTE) positions, Morton said. A number of factors will dictate school-level position cuts, including staff retirements.
School officials are further expected to propose the elimination of one guidance counselor position, she said. Since guidance counselor positions are systemwide, they will have to redistribute the remaining positions.
Each counselor’s primary responsibility is building-level testing, Morton said. “They’re extremely focused on accountability and testing. We’d love for them to have more time with the children, but they don’t have the time.”
Custodial, maintenance changes
Blount County Schools also stands to lose two full-time custodian positions and three full-time maintenance positions. Currently, the school district has 80 full-time-equivalent custodian positions and 15 maintenance positions, including support staff, for 21 school sites.
School officials previously reduced its custodial staff through attrition, said Gary Farmer, facilities and maintenance coordinator. Two years ago, the district employed 90 full-time-equivalent custodian positions.
“Despite these reductions, our schools are cleaner today than when I took the job in (2011),” Farmer said. “We haven’t missed a day due to illness in the past two years.”
A custodial staff reduction would result in a redistribution of staff based on several variables, including facility requirements, number of students and square footage, he said. “It’s definitely not cut and dry, because each building’s requirements are so varied.”
Blount County Schools employs two carpenters, two electricians, two heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians, one locksmith, one machine operator, two painter, two plumbers, and one small engine repair technician/welder, Farmer said. In the past two years, employees have reduced the number of daily work orders by 10 percent by adopting a more proactive maintenance strategy.
A maintenance staff reduction could impact those efforts, he said. “I worry that I’ll revert back. However, we’ll do the best we can with the money that’s given to us.”
Committee members are further expected to recommend eliminating five days of regular education transportation. School officials were considering the elimination of 25 days of regular education transportation at $79.9 million.
System- and building-level administrators are concerned about reducing student transportation services, because the school district has a predominately bus-dependent student population. Student transportation, which isn’t mandated by state law, is one area that can be reduced, though.
“When you get close to eight days without bus transportation, it’s dangerous,” Britt said. “We’re going to be held accountable for those students whether or not they’re in school, so it’s critical that we have them in our classrooms.”
Buses transported 7,880 students, or 70.3 percent of the district’s student population, in the 2011-12 school year, said Stan Burnette, supervisor of attendance and transportation. School officials don’t have this year’s numbers, because they haven’t submitted a state compliance report for 2012-13.
A reduction in student transportation could affect Blount County in additional ways, Britt said. School districts receive funding based upon their average daily attendance, and five additional days without regular education transportation could result in decreased attendance — and decreased revenue.
In the Blount County Board of Education’s $86.87 million appropriations request, school officials asked for $650,000 to address needs outlined in its five-year technology plan. They later reduced this request to $300,000.
School officials were scheduled to replace and add computers this school year, Dalton said. They are working to replace 8- and 10-year-old computers throughout the school district. However, the line items stands to be cut by $80,000 to a total of $120,000.
Officials also reduced funding for interactive devices, such as interactive whiteboards, Apple iPads and Apple TVs, he said. The line item was cut to $75,000.
Blount County Schools is currently upgrading its telephone system, changing from an analog telephone system to a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone system, Dalton said. Workers have upgraded five schools, the Central Office, and the maintenance building. They were planning to upgrade three schools next year.
Seven schools — Friendsville Elementary, Lanier Elementary, Middlesettlements Elementary, Montvale Elementary, Porter Elementary, Rockford Elementary, and Townsend Elementary schools — have telephone systems with components that are no longer supported, he said. “As we start replacing systems, we’re keeping those components to repair the remaining systems as they go down.”
School officials eliminated a new computer technician position, as well, Dalton said. The system’s technology department is composed of a secretary, phone/computer technician, computer technician, and network administrator/computer technician. The two technicians operate on a schedule, providing services to one-half of schools each week.
Blount County Schools also designates building-level computer technicians, who are usually teachers or teaching assistants, he said. They address technology problems and relay the school’s concerns and needs to the district’s technology department.
School officials will face numerous challenges in the next couple years, Dalton said. The state Department of Education recently allocated $590,000 to help school districts bolster their technological infrastructures, so the districts can offer Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) online tests in 2014-15.
Blount County Schools will upgrade its system this summer from 70 Mbps to 200 Mbps connections, he said. PARCC recommends that school districts provide 100 Mbps per 1,000 students, which would mean that Blount County’s network should provide 1 Gbps connections.
School officials will be required to use the funds for technology investments, he said. However, the school district will struggle next year to install $890,000 worth of equipment and perform its current duties with two technicians.
In many ways, the technology department’s woes are a microcosm for the entire district and its 21 schools. If Blount County Schools is given $81 million for fiscal year 2013-14, they will be asked to do more with less resources, financial, human and time.
School principals advise that they can meet these higher goals with limited financial resources, pointing to their past performances. However, they will struggle to meet these goals without adequate human resources.
Wednesday: Principals discuss school-level impact