Schools oppose funding reduction

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By Damon Lawrence

The Roane County Board of Education plans to vote on a resolution Thursday that asks the county commission to not cut the funding for the school system.

The resolution is in response to actions taken by the commission’s budget committee.

“The budget committee voted to recommend that the Board of Education receive the same level of local funding that was funded last year,” County Executive Ron Woody said in a letter to Director of Schools Toni McGriff. “However, we will be in compliance with the state requirement of maintenance of effort. The growth money we collect in sales tax will be given, but with a reduction in property tax.”

That didn’t go over well with the school system.

“The Roane County Commission Budget Committee took action on May 12 and May 26 to reduce the tax rate of the General Purpose School Fund by 4 cents or $450,000 for the 2011-12 fiscal year without considering the needs of the school system,” the school board resolution states.

The resolution is asking the commission to “not cut the funding of the school system and not accept the action of the budget committee to cut growth from local revenue sources.”

Budget committee members insists they are not cutting funding for the schools.

“The $450,000 the way it is planned right now is not a cut for the money that the county has been giving them,” Woody said.

Woody said the budget committee’s recommendation will give the schools the same amount of funding and potentially help the county’s general fund, which is out of balance by $760,000.

“The growth has been taking place in sales tax, which goes to education,” Woody said “So they (the budget committee) recognized they had to maintain the same level of funding in education from one year to the next, but they could offset the growth in sales tax with a reduction in property tax.”

According to budget committee minutes, county budget director Kaley Walker presented a worksheet showing the current year’s local contribution to education being held steady at close to $19.5 million.

“With the projected increase in sales tax being $7.7 million, and accounting for the prior year collections, this would leave $10,877,000 to be contributed in property tax,” the minutes state. “This results in a tax rate for education of 97 (property tax) pennies for FY (fiscal year) 12, as opposed to 101 pennies for FY 11.”

School board members bristled about that during a work session last week.

“They’re going to take that 4 cents away from the kids, but they’re not going to lower our taxes,” Mike “Brillo” Miller said.

School system business manager Eric Harbin said the county’s sales tax revenue is skewed because of the TVA ash spill cleanup and government stimulus money being spent in Oak Ridge.

“The Oak Ridge sales tax is up 40 percent,” Harbin said. “Alva Moore, the previous budget director, researched that and he found ... there was ARRA (stimulus) money being spent by ORNL contractors, replacing equipment and so forth that has inflated that number.”

“Anything that we send over and the budget committee doesn’t approve, we’re going to recommend it go to the full commission before we change anything, unless the board directs us to do something different,” Harbin said.