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Roane County Board of Education members wrestled again with the prospect of a tax increase to balance the proposed 2013-14 school budget last week.
“We’re about $3 million short. Is that right?” Board member Sam Cox asked.
“Yes,” schools business manager Eric Harbin responded.
“What kind of tax-rate increase would that be?” Cox asked.
“Twenty-six cents,” Harbin responded.
That’s 26 cents to the county’s current $2.18 property-tax rate per $100 in assessed value, which would bring Roane County’s tax rate to $2.44. It could go higher if the Roane County Commission adds more to the budget for other-than-school needs.
Harbin said the 26 cents would get the school system “operationally sound.”
“The budget situation is not getting any better,” he said.
The public can learn more about the school system’s financial situation during a joint work session between the school board and Roane County Commission on Thursday.
The work session is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Kingston Community Center.
“We want open communication between the county commission and school board, and this is just an opportunity for us to show where we are and maybe get some expectations from them on what we can expect,” Director of Schools Gary Aytes said.
Board members said they have similar expectations for the work session.
“I just hope we can relay what’s going on with this budget,” Mike “Brillo” Miller said.
“Understanding of what we’re trying to do and understanding of what they’re trying to do,” Darrell “Drack” Langley said. “See if there is a problem. If there is a problem, we need to get it fixed.”
Aytes attributed the financial problems to two things – reduction in the number of students and changes in the formula the state uses to allocate money to school systems.
“We’re hoping that in future years that the economic picture will improve, the students will start coming back that we’ve lost,” Harbin said. “Right now it’s 500 students. That’s a big impact on $3 million of lost revenue from the state.”
Roane County Executive Ron Woody said he plans a presentation explaining the situation at Thursday’s work session.
“The data that we have, which is going to be available Thursday night, says exactly what the schools have said,” Woody said. “The state money declined, so their impact has been predominantly the state.”
Woody has been blamed for the school system’s financial situation.
Wrongly so, he contends.
“It’s a whole lot easier, I guess, for people to beat up the county executive than to look at the problems they have because of the loss in students and the state changing the (school-funding) formula,” he said. “I have no influence on what the state gives them.”
Woody said he also plans to discuss fiscal policy at the work session.
“The evidence is overwhelming, I think, that our office and the county commission has supported education,” he said. “We have made investments in Midtown to support retail growth, knowing that retail sales tax will go to education.”
School security will also be a topic at Thursday’s work session.
The schools are looking to beef up security in response to the shooting rampage that occurred last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. A gunman entered the school and killed 20 children and six adults.
Harbin said the shortfall the school system is facing doesn’t take into account money — if approved — that would be needed for security upgrades or additional school resource officers.