Hamilton County Schools' fiscal year 2012 budget is only $1.4 million short of balancing, the district's chief financial officer estimated Thursday.
"For us, that's real close to being balanced," Tommy Kranz said during a Hamilton County Board of Education Finance Committee meeting. "Normally that number is closer to $6 million or $7 million."
But that was only Kranz's "Plan A."
If the Hamilton County Commission succeeds in withholding the payment in lieu of taxes money set aside for schools, as commissioners discussed doing at their meeting Thursday, Kranz would have to use his second document -- Plan B -- which would put the school district about $7.4 million in the hole.
"And there's not enough in our fund balance to cover it," Kranz said.
The commission suggested Thursday that the county set the PILOT money aside and use it for land acquisition for schools, building new schools and renovating and maintaining current facilities.
The school system planned to put the money, which traditionally has been handed directly over to it from the county, in its general purpose fund to help balance its budget.
Board member Linda Mosley, who chairs the Finance Committee, said she was "very unhappy" that the commission and school board had not had a joint meeting before the commission announced its plans Thursday.
"I feel like our integrity has been questioned. We are being told that we cannot control our own finances," she said. "If we decide to go forward with Plan B, we need to consider some severe, severe cuts to our program."
Mosley suggested several programs the school district could make cuts to in order to save money. Her suggestions included band, athletics, music, art, maintenance and the county-promised German program provided for children of Volkswagen families.
Board member Rhonda Thurman accused Mosley of trying to tug at people's heartstrings by suggesting cuts to "buses, band, books and ball." She said she understands why the commission thinks it should have control over the PILOT money.
"The commission is the one who has to go to the public and ask for tax increases, and they think it's way to easy for us to spend our money," she said. "I can just see lots of areas where we can cut. Cut the magnet office if we have to."
The school board's Facilities Committee met Thursday after the Finance Committee to discuss future building projects. Board members decided they could not move forward with a budget or building plan until a joint meeting is scheduled with the commission to resolve the PILOT money issue.
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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, ...