By Sally Absher
By Sally Absher
The School Board met for their June Work Session and Regular Session meetings last week. It’s too bad that Knox County Schools didn’t get $10 for every time Dr. McIntyre of one of his board members took a jab at County Commission or the Mayor for not fully funding their board approved budget for next year. It would go a long way to making up much of the $7.4M “shortfall.”
$2.9M of the shortfall was due to a change in the BEP funding estimate from the state. Indya Kincannon presented a letter she drafted to Governor Haslam expressing the board’s “deep concern and dismay about the recent and unexpected changes to the BEP formula.”
“This unprecedented last-minute reduction did not stem from legislative changes or reductions in tax collections. This change was never discussed or reviewed by any Commission or Board, much less an elected body such as our General Assembly.”
The board asked the governor to delay the BEP funding changes until the recently appointed BEP task force completes their study.
The school board has a long history of asking for more money. When total funding per pupil is examined, Knox County ($9,077) comes in slightly under the state average ($9,293), as board member Doug Harris likes to remind us at every opportunity. What Harris never points out is that Knox County ranks fourth highest of 95 Tennessee counties in the local contribution ($4,895) for K-12 education. Only Davidson, Sevier, and Hamilton Counties contribute more locally than Knox County.
Still, the reality is the Board will be making due with $7.4M less than they planned on for the 2014-2015 school year. Dr. McIntyre presented the FY 2015 Budget in the amount of $424,885,000. He said, “It is extraordinarily challenging to be in an already lean and tight budget, and identify $7.5M to cut.”
“We have tried to continue to focus on the work we do in the classroom, to preserve teacher positions, and to organize our limited resources in a way that will allow us to continue to make progress with our kids.”
“The board has set a priority on making progress on teacher compensation, but unfortunately, without the support of the County Commission, the raises that were in the board’s initial budget are not feasible at this time.”
He outlined a number of different strategies to further reconcile the budget, including eliminating unfilled positions held in reserve; slowing the transition of the summer bridge program from Great Schools Partnership to the general fund; and selective hiring freeze for non-instructional positions.
Karen Carson asked about instructional coaches, saying one thing she frequently hears should be cut is coaches (not football). Dr. McIntyre defended the use of instructional coaches, and pointed out that the majority of coaches are not funded through the general fund. He said the Return on Investment (ROI) report shows the value of coaches.
Mike McMillan challenged Dr. McIntyre, saying, “As far as the raises, I think you are in denial, I think some of my fellow board members are in denial, about the money. The teachers that are complaining, for the first time… the raises are not the number one priority for most of the teachers that I’ve talked to. There are a lot of other things that we could do to make life easier”
At this point, some in the audience clapped, bringing a stern response from Chairman Fugate, “Please, please. This is our board meeting!” She added “I don’t think this board ever said that is the most important thing for the teachers. We said that is the most important thing to this board, to give our teachers more money.”
In Public Forum Monday night, Brenda Owensby said that over the past few years, the board raised principals salaries, many over $10K, while continuing to talking about teacher salaries falling behind. But “teacher concerns are not about money. Departing teachers are leaving because they are not treated as the professionals that they are. Your actions speak louder than your words.”
Lynne Schneider said it’s “not clear that our funds are being spent wisely in Knox County Schools. You take every opportunity to portray the county commission in a negative light for not approving your budget.” She added, “Return on Investment is a business term. Schools are not businesses.”
On Wednesday, Kim Waller asked if anyone on the board had looked at the line item budget, or did they simply take the $7M cuts from the superintendent. She asked, “Why, if we are in a budget crunch and teacher salaries are a priority, are we opening a $1.2M CTE Magnet school? And now the Charter?”
The board unanimously approved Dr. McIntyre’s budget for the 2014-2015 school year.