Hamilton County: Citizen panel frustrated with balanced school budget

Hamilton County: Citizen panel frustrated with balanced school budget

April 22nd, 2009 by Kelli Gauthier in Local - Breaking News

Despite presenting a budget that balanced to the dollar, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales received a verbal beating from community members Tuesday night, outlining ways in which the school system could have done better.

Upon seeing the balanced budget for fiscal year 2010 for the first time, members of a citizen advisory committee chimed in with complaints and advice throughout the two-hour meeting.

Unum Chief Financial Officer Bob Greving said the school system's financial model of small schools has kept the district from being able to give pay raises to employees. The model still is broken, a visibly frustrated Mr. Greving said, and the system's money troubles only will continue year after year.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2010 on April 29. Superintendent Jim Scales will present the budget on May 6 to the County Commission, which also must approve the document.

"You have a balanced budget, so congratulations to you and Tommy (Kranz, the district's chief financial officer) for coming up with that," he said. "But you are down to the dollar."

The Hamilton County Department of Education's $302 million proposed balanced budget includes closing Howard Middle School and 21st Century Academy and eliminating about 104 positions. The district's central office will function next year with 38 fewer employees, including Area Superintendent Don Beard and Secondary Operations Director David Cowan, both of whom are retiring and will not be replaced, Dr. Scales said.

The plan does not include concessions from the Hamilton County Education Association on employee health care benefits, which must be negotiated between the union and the school system.

Irvin Overton, a member of the citizen advisory committee, said it was time for school system employees to recognize that everyone is paying more for health insurance than they were 10-15 years ago.

The salaries of some clerical staff members who make nearly $60,000 a year also came under attack, as citizen advisory committee member Dean Moorhouse questioned whether there should be a cap on their compensation.

"You've got teachers with six to seven years of college making less money than a secretary," he said. "That just doesn't set well."

The meeting also touched on topics such as the proposed merger of Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah high schools and the migration and slight decline of the district's student population. In the end, those present came to few, if any conclusions.

"I don't think we really accomplished much tonight," said board member and Finance Committee chairwoman Linda Mosley.

The group of board and community members will meet again May 5, after board members have approved the budget, to discuss a five- to 10-year facilities plan for the district, Ms. Mosley said.