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Did previous pay raises throw off school funds?

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By Damon Lawrence

Pay raises for school personnel have been brought up a lot during this year’s county budget process.
Members of the Roane County Commission’s budget committee contend the school system wouldn’t be facing a shortfall if it hadn’t given them out the past few years.
“I did not see any future planning being conducted under the prior school administration, and I’m not so sure how they’re looking at it now,” Roane County Executive Ron Woody said, “other than asking the Roane County taxpayers to bail them out.”
The budget committee is recommending the county’s property tax rate remain at $2.18 per $100 valuation for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The schools are asking for an increase of 14 cents, which would generate $1.582 million.
“If we get nothing, the board will have to make the decision on where we make the cuts,” Director of Schools Gary Aytes said.
Board of Education members didn’t discuss what would be facing the axe during last week’s board meeting.
“Tonight wasn’t the night to talk about that,” Everett Massengill said.
The two sides have different positions on what the raises have cost the school system.
“The raises that the schools did give is well over what’s out of balance,” Woody said.
School officials insists the raises have nothing to do with their predicament.
“We’re not in this situation because we gave raises back however many years ago,” business manager Eric Harbin said.
“We’re in this situation because of cuts in state funding. That’s the bottom line.”
Some of the pay raises for school personnel have been mandated by the state. Others have been discretionary.
“I support what we’ve done,” Harbin said. “The board does not need to be ashamed of it.”
“I don’t think this board is ashamed of the raises we’ve given in any capacity,” Board Member Wade McCullough said.
Commissioner Bobby Collier, who serves on the budget committee, said the raise issue is also about  fairness.
There have been years when school employees received pay increases, while other county employees did not.
“Those other people that work in finance and all those other places, they haven’t had those raises,” he said.
“They’ve had one raise in four years. I guess we’re talking about equity.”
Harbin said the raises have never been tied together, and there’s been years in the past where county employees got a bigger raise than school employees.
There are no across-the-board raises in the school budget this year, but some school system employees will receive increases in pay for obtaining advanced degrees and years of service.
County employees were in line for 2-percent raises beginning July 1, but the budget committee removed the increase to balance the budget.