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Residents face off on need for increase to fund schools

By Damon Lawrence

Several hundred people crammed into two courtrooms and still spilled out into the hall to attend a public hearing Monday on a proposed 14-cent Roane County property tax rate increase.
School officials have said the money is needed to make up for cuts in state funding.


The debate was spirited as both sides  stepped up to the microphone.
“I’ve got two kids in the school system,” Steve Hedrick said. “I hate to say this probably as much as anybody, but I ask that you hold this tax rate steady.”
Willie Gallaher took the opposite stance.
“Today, I’m standing here before you as a law-abiding citizen, a productive citizen, who is willing to dig deeper into my pockets to provide whatever necessary means to help support our schools, which in turn will help support our children,” he said.
The county’s current property tax rate is $2.18 per $100 valuation. School officials have said the 14-cent rate increase would allow the system to plug a budget shortfall caused by cuts in state funding. 
“The thing that disturbs me most is the just-say-no attitude to any request for additional tax dollars for the schools,” Karen White said. “I think we need to work together, the county commission, the citizens of Roane County and the school board to find solutions, rather than just saying we won’t entertain any request to change the amount of taxes that are allocated to the schools.”
School officials attribute the state funding cuts to a decrease in students and changes in the state formula used to allocate money to school systems. 
“How can we reduce students, and they ask for more money?” Roane County Tea Party Chairman Val McNabb asked. “The school I was educated in says that it’s impossible. If the school board can’t live on what they have now, because I’m forced to live on what we have now, then maybe we should get a businessman in there to run the school system.”
Trina Baughn, an Oak Ridge city councilwoman who lives in Roane County, said taxpayers are tapped out. 
“Speaking as a parent, I want to say that I truly value all of our schools, teachers and staff,” she said. “However, fewer students means fewer needed funds. If you’ve experienced a drop in enrollment as we have, it is nothing short of irresponsible to increase spending.”
Lennie Stansbury said she’s for education but against more taxes.
“You need to learn to live within your budget,” she said. “I have to, and we cannot afford more taxes.”
School officials have said a 14-cent increase in the property tax rate would mean an extra $35 for a person with a home assessed at $100,000.
“We’re not talking about huge amounts of money across the board,” Brian Channell said. “I’m begging you to consider.”
Chris Metcalfe, the band teacher at Rockwood High School, said students will suffer if programs are cut because of no additional funding.
“As a person who’s on the front line of education, I can tell you that we have many kids that need these programs to survive,” he said.

A 14-cent increase in the property tax rate would generate $1.582 million for the school system.
If not 14 cents, school board members ask the county to give them something.   
“Zero is the wrong answer,” Board Member Wade McCullough said.
“If 14 cents isn’t the answer, if you can’t do that, let’s compromise like Wade said and come together on this,” Board Member Mike “Brillo” Miller said. “Remember, it’s all about these kids.”
Prior to Monday’s hearing, the budget committee recommended that the property tax rate remain the same.
After listening to the lengthy debate at the public hearing, that recommendation did not change.
The actual vote on the county’s 2013-14 budget is expected at the regular monthly commission meeting on July 8.