The Hamilton County Schools system may lose out on nearly $4 million in state funding if Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposed budget cuts become a reality.
At the same time that local school administrators were presenting a balanced fiscal year 2009 budget to the Hamilton County Commission, Gov. Bredesen announced he would have to cut $86.5 million statewide from Basic Education Program money, which funds education.
Under the governor’s proposed 2008/09 budget, Hamilton County still would receive $500,000 in regular inflationary growth funding to cover items such as textbooks, transportation and capital construction but not $3.8 million in new funds.
“From our standpoint today, we’re going to stay with this budget until we hear something official from the state Department of Education as to what our funding level will be,” school system Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz said. “Then we’ll make adjustments.”
Mr. Kranz planned to use part of the BEP money on raises for local employees, he said. Gov. Bredesen still may require some of the inflationary money to be spent on bonuses, he said.
He would not speculate on what he would have to cut from the budget in order to make up for the potential revenue loss.
“I could come up with 10 different scenarios,” he said. “I’ll give my recommendation to the superintendent, but the board would still have to sign off on it.”
Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, a House Education Committee member, said elimination of new BEP 2.0 funding “will be tough for the school board. They’re going to have to redo their budget, probably.”
“That will be tough on them, and they’ll have to adjust to that, which we hate to see,” Rep. McCormick said
Gov. Bredesen said he was not happy about the proposed BEP 2.0 cuts or the elimination of $25 million slated for expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
As for what he would tell local school system officials who had been counting on seeing the BEP 2.0 money, Gov. Bredesen said, “I was counting on about $700 million of revenue I’m not going to get. And I’ve had to adjust to it.
“And I guess I’d say to the school systems (that) we are fully funding the normal BEP growth. In other words, what’s been done for each of the years except for last year, when we passed a new tax and new money, is being done again this year.”
The state still anticipates providing $83.9 million in regular inflationary growth to BEP, Gov. Bredesen said.
“I’d say to somebody in education, ‘I think Tennessee and the Tennessee General Assembly have done a good job in protecting you, and I’m going to have to ask your help a little bit in this for that last piece of the money you might have been expecting,’ ” he said.
House Education Committee Chairman Les Winningham, D-Huntsville, said freezing improvements to BEP 2.0 is “very disappointing.”
“When we set out on this course last year, we all promised, not just the governor promised, that there’d be an increase this year,” he said.
Rep. Winningham said he never really thought the state would be able to fund the BEP 2.0’s full $517 million in a three-year period as some had suggested.
With the current sagging economy, Hamilton County school board member Joe Conner said the proposed cuts didn’t surprise him. He said he had faith in the local delegation of lawmakers to “fight tooth and nail” to amend the governor’s proposal.
“No matter what you do, it’s going to impact our operation,” he said.
Although Mr. Kranz admitted the $3.8 million was “real money,” he said it would not make a huge impact on the school system’s $298 million general-purpose budget.
“It’s pretty immaterial,” he said. “The (current) budget ends on June 30, 2008. If I have approval of a $298 million budget for next year and $3.8 million comes out, I’m on the clock to amend the budget, but it doesn’t impact our ability to operate on July 1.”
The Hamilton County Schools’ budget must be approved by July 1. If state officials do not release the exact amount of BEP reductions soon enough, the County Commission can allow the school system to operate under a continuation budget until final numbers are known.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...