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Fairview Elementary School's 'Snuggle In' family night tied to One Book Blitz

Fairview Elementary School invited families to "A Night in Times Square" on Thursday, Feb. 13.

The "Snuggle In" book fair event was linked to "The Cricket in Times Square," this year's title for the One Book Blitz. Families could browse books, create crafts, munch on cookies and watch a puppet performance.

Townsend planners ask for more information to make decision about food trucks

Townsend leaders are taking another serious look at something they’ve tabled in the past: food trucks.

This is the second month the planning commission has discussed the advent of food trucks in the “peaceful side of the Smokies,” but it is not the first time they’ve considered it.

Townsend Commissioner and owner of Talley Ho Inn Michael Talley brought the subject to discussion during the January planning commission where leaders weighed the wisdom of inviting the mobile eateries into town.

While commissioners did not vote Thursday on whether or not the move would be a good idea, they reviewed a mock application drawn up by East Tennessee Development District Regional Planner Joe Barrett.

Currently, Maryville is the only government in the county with a defined set of perimeters for food trucks, rules the city set in action in 2016.

But the steady stream of food truck traffic in Townsend during festivals and on private properties for events has caused some to believe its time for the city to make its own set of limitations and allowances.

“There’s really two separate issues if you are open to it,” Barrett explained to commissioners. “One is, as far as zoning (there should be) something in your municipal code that puts some safeguards in place ... And then you have the application process.”

Commissioners expressed interest in how to regulate food trucks in terms of health inspections, most agreeing it would be a necessary aspect of a new code.

“Looks like, if you’re going to have a food truck in the city, you should have a requirement that they have to have a health inspection before they can operate here,” Planning Commissioner Bill Lindsay said during the meeting.

He asked if there was currently a requirement for a business license to which other commissioners responded there were no requirements currently in writing.

“I think they just show up,” Commissioner Becky Headrick said.

Barrett asked if there were any concerns about inviting food trucks to the city and pointed out some might be wary about mobile food vendors drawing business away from the many brick-and-mortar eateries around Townsend.

‘At least have something in place’Planning commissioners agreed there was no way food trucks would be allowed to set up shop in right-of-way or public parking spaces.

They also speculated on the time food trucks would be allowed to operate and ultimately told Barrett they would be interested in seeing how other cities managed them.

“There are certain common elements,” Barrett said. “It just depends. You know, Knoxville’s going to be a little different because they establish ... specific routes they can use throughout the city.”

He asked if Townsend would mainly consider trucks in property zoned for business and not residential, though planning commissioners did not clarify their position much beyond indicating they would need more time and more information before they made any decisions.

“They’re going to come down here,” Planning Commission Secretary Steve Fillmore said. “It would be better to at least have something in place to be able to deal with it.”

Blount County Schools budget discussion begins $4.25 million short

A first look at a possible budget for Blount County Schools in 2020-21 shows more than a $7 million gap between what the district wants to do and expected revenue.

The budget would be $4.25 million short with only a 5% pay raise for employees, a 5% increase for bus transportation and a $909,000 increase for capital improvements. That’s after using $1.5 million from savings in the district’s fund balance.

Other budget priorities for Blount County Schools would add more than $3 million in costs.

“The biggest unknown in all of this is what the BEP revenue will be from the state,” Troy Logan, BCS fiscal administrator, told the Blount County Board of Education at a work session this month. “Whatever that number is, whatever increase we get, hopefully, that will offset that shortfall.”

“Help to offset,” said board Chair Debbie Sudhoff, not expecting enough to fully fill the gap.

The school board’s Feb. 6 meeting was the first look at the figures, and the school board won’t know how much state funding to expect through the Basic Education Program funding formula until after it presents its first budget proposal to the county Budget Committee in April.

The first glance prepared by Logan does not include any expected increase from the state, and just a $1.2 million increase in local funding, based on trends of property and sales tax revenues.

Teacher pay

A 5% raise for all employees would cost about $4.2 million. The Board of Education voted to provide that raise at its January meeting, even before Gov. Bill Lee proposed a $117 million increase in state funding for teacher salaries.

“When the state says we’re going to provide a 4% increase for teacher pay, really they’re not sending the Blount Board of Education 4% money to pay our teachers,” Director Rob Britt reminded the school board.

With the state funding formula, it would send districts only about 70% of the cost of that 4% raise, and only for positions included in the formula, he noted. “The teachers that are beyond what the BEP provides for us, we’ll have to pick up the entire amount.”

For example, the formula may cover part of the cost of one guidance counselor for every 3,000 students.

“It’s not simple fifth grade math,” he said. “It’s more complicated.”

Next year, Sudhoff said, “We need to have this meeting before we start talking about salary increases.”

“It’s not that they don’t deserve it,” she said of the proposed 5% raise over the annual step increase, “but we have to look at all of the needs and to figure out how we are going to balance the needs before we commit ourselves to anything.”

A 5% raise in payments for buses would cost about $250,000.

Other priorities for the school district could cost more than $3 million, although it is looking at repurposing some positions. Staffing estimates include the amount for salaries and benefits.

Mental health

To provide mental health support, the district is looking at proposals that could cost up to $760,000.

Adding five counselors would cost about $350,000. One each would serve Carpenters and Union Grove middle schools, two would be added to those already splitting time among the 14 elementary schools, and one would be split between the alternative school campus and the Eagleton campus, which BCS plans to begin converting to serve grades six through 12.

Three proposed behavior intervention classrooms would include teachers, assistants, a social worker and services from a mental health provider. Britt said by repurposing three teaching positions, the extra cost for that proposal might be cut from $410,000 to $200,000.

Instructional support

Similarly, by repurposing some positions the district may trim the estimated $460,000 increase to staff the Eagleton College and Career Academy with four teachers, an assistant principal and a receptionist.

Britt is estimating 75 freshman may choose to remain at Eagleton in the first year of that program.

With grant funding expiring for Eagleton Middle’s after school Crown Academy, the district is looking for $120,000 to continue that program as well.

The director told the board he plans to apply for a waiver from a state law scheduled to take effect in July that will require elementary students to have 60 minutes of physical education a week, split between two days.

To do that in the 14 BCS elementary schools, which already share PE teachers, would require another five or six at a cost of $350,000 or more.

Adding a criminal justice instructor and advanced learning teacher is estimated at $70,000 each. Currently one criminal justice teacher is split between the two high schools, and principals said demand for that program is high.

Plans to add instructional coaches and intervention teachers would add another $725,000.

The district may be able to use $585,000 from its fund balance, money not already budgeted, to cover curriculum and materials for middle school English language arts, social studies in grades three through five and the Wit and Wisdom curriculum in grade two. Those include print and online resources.

Capital projects manager

To oversee renovations at the two high schools and other capital improvements, the district is looking at a capital projects manager. Logan currently is in charge of overseeing that work along with his financial role.

Hiring a project manager would cost about $120,000 in salary and benefits, while contracting for the service would nearly double the cost, according to BCS estimates. The standard in the industry for that type of service is 5% of the project cost, Britt said.

He, Sudhoff and other board members agreed that oversight of the projects is important and the position will pay for itself.

Adding two craftsmen positions to help upkeep of the district’s 21 schools is estimated at $110,000.

ESL change

BCS also plans to stop busing all English learners to the Eagleton campus for instruction.

“We no longer can utilize a single site to deliver our ESL services,” Britt said. Instead students will receive English as a second language instruction at their own school or one within their region.

That may require adding an ESL teacher, at a cost of $70,000, although the district may see savings in student transportation costs.

The move also will free about seven classrooms at Eagleton, but Britt said in an interview the district would be making the move to provide more instructional time even without the ECCA plan.

He is proposing to use $85,720 of the funding already collected through students’ Chromebook user fees to provide books and other resources to libraries. “We really need to invest in our libraries,” he told the school board.