What’s routine for school board not so run-of-the-mill for commission

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By Damon Lawrence

School officials appeared before the Roane County Commission on Feb. 11 requesting approval of a $99,012 budget amendment that was passed by the school board in December.

“It’s a routine budget amendment that just reflects new revenues and new expenditures since the original budget,” Director of Schools Gary Aytes said.

The vote, however, was anything but routine.

Six commissioners voted in favor of the amendment.

Four voted no, and five others passed.

“The resolution fails for lack of a majority,” Commission Chairman James Brummett ruled.

That left school officials searching for answers.

“Could you all give us some direction on what you’d like for us to do?” Aytes asked.

“I guess we need a formal reason to take back to the school board,” business manager Eric Harbin added.

Brummett suggested they meet with the commission’s budget committee.

“We’ve done all we can do here tonight on this particular resolution,” he said.

Aytes said the budget amendment was to cover unemployment, truancy, insurance and janitorial expenses.

“It is for items that we have no choice,” Harbin said.

“We have commitments to pay the unemployment. We have commitments to make that payment to the county for the truancy. We have to pay liability insurance and we also have to pay the increased janitorial expense.”

School officials met with the budget committee about the amendment on Feb. 4.

County Executive Ron Woody said the committee didn’t make a recommendation out of concern that it would add to a shortfall the school system is facing.

“All we’re doing tonight is just making the normal adjustments that they make two or three times a year,” Commissioner Ron Berry said. “Is that correct?”

“You’re in the hole $1.5 (million), you’re going $1.6 (million),” Woody responded.

Commissioners Copper Bacon, Berry, Randy Ellis, Nick Forrester, Chris Johnson and George Nelson voted for the amendment.

Ray Cantrell, Bobby Collier, Benny East, Carolyn Granger and Steve Kelley passed.

Voting no were Brummett, Jerry Goddard, Stanley Moore and Fred Tedder.   

“So we just don’t pay the unemployment?” Aytes asked after the resolution failed.

“Well, I’m not the director of schools, sir,” Brummett responded.

The vote on the budget amendment could be a sign of things to come between the school officials and the commission.

Woody said Harbin and Aytes showed the budget committee a preliminary 2013-14 school budget that projects a $4.3 million shortfall.  

“To support this, ladies and gentlemen, you are probably looking at one of the largest tax rate increases in history,” Woody said.

Nelson said he doesn’t mind one for education. Tedder said he wouldn’t support it.

“I’m on a fixed income, and I’m not voting for a tax increase,” he said.

Harbin emphasized that the preliminary budget was just that – preliminary.  

“We’re going to work through it, do the best we can working with the county,” he said.

“We’re going to do our due diligence as we do every year and try to bring as best a budget as we can.”