published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Hamilton County school board passes budget

Rick Smith, Superintendent for Hamilton County, and Mike Evatt, Chairman of the school board, confer during the school board meeting on Thursday in Chattanooga.
Rick Smith, Superintendent for Hamilton County, and Mike Evatt, Chairman of the school board, confer during the school board meeting on Thursday in Chattanooga.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
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BY THE NUMBERS

Cuts to this year's budget for Hamilton County Schools include:

• $4.8 million -- Savings generated by making employees pay more for their health insurance

• $2 million -- HRA program

• $1.5 million -- Cuts to facility maintenance budget

• $1 million -- Cuts to central office positions

• $1 million -- Reductions in insurance expenses due to dependent audit

• $800,000 -- Savings from retirements and unfulfilled job vacancies

• $910,099 -- Cuts to teaching and support positions

• $180,000 -- Cut assistant principal positions

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education


WHAT'S NEXT

The Department of Education's budget will be presented to the Hamilton County Commission on Thursday. At that point, the department will request PILOT funds to be released from the commission.

With close to $18 million in cuts, the Hamilton County Department of Education's $373 million budget finally is balanced.

But the severe cuts -- which include a loss of at least 24 positions, diminished hours for some employees and $1.5 million from the school's capital maintenance fund -- have the school board anxious for the Hamilton County Commission to restore PILOT funds to its general fund.

"I want some reassurance that we're asking for the PILOT money," voiced board member Linda Mosley before the vote. "We wouldn't have had this problem in the first place if it hadn't been taken away."

The schools' PILOT money -- payments in lieu of taxes -- is derived from large companies like Volkswagen that have special tax break agreements with the county. Earlier this year, the commission earmarked those funds for school construction, to the dismay of the school board, which had expected to include it in its operating fund.

School Superintendent Rick Smith and board Chairman Mike Evatt repeatedly affirmed that they would be requesting the funds to be released.

The funds would restore about $3.5 million to the budget, money Evatt said could go toward reinstating some cut positions or replenishing the department's depleted fund balance.

Christie Jordan, director of accounting and finance for Hamilton County Schools, said the department's reserves are now between $10 million and $11 million -- right at the 3 percent state requirement.

"Almost $4.5 million of what we're using this year are one-time funds," said Jordan. "So that really puts us in a big hole."

Before the budget was unanimously approved, the board voted to retain benefits for contacted school bus drivers, which Smith had originally eliminated from the budget.

The board also spent nearly two hours debating other measures, including whether or not to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports.

The move was presented after the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association approved a bylaw this year permitting homeschool students to participate in extracurricular athletics at a member school.

Board member Rhonda Thurman emphasized that homeschooling parents are taxpayers, so their kids deserved to participate in athletics.

"These homeschoolers are taking the burden off the school and not adding to the schools," Thurman said.

But other board members expressed reservation, questioning liability issues and saying there wasn't enough of a structure in place to organize the influx of new athletes. The measure was voted down 7-2.

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