Chattanooga: Citizen panel wants bigger role in fixing schools' budget

Chattanooga: Citizen panel wants bigger role in fixing schools' budget

February 20th, 2009 by Kelli Gauthier in Local Regional News

Community members charged with reviewing the public school system's budget say they are "completely underwhelmed" by administrators' recommendations and want to take on a bigger role in erasing a $20 million deficit.

After weeks of being inundated with data about drastic cuts needed to balance next year's budget, members of a citizen advisory panel say the proposed two school closures and 130 eliminated positions do not come close to fixing Hamilton County Schools' budget woes.

"I think the focus has completely shifted," said panel member Kurt Faires. "At first we were going to come up with a plan, and now we're suddenly just closing two schools. I think it's a cop-out."

Tommy Kranz, the school system's chief financial officer, insisted the recommendation he presented Tuesday was merely a rough draft. The "fluid" document would change many times before a final document is ready, he said.

"That was just how we could balance the budget at that moment in time," he said. "We're going to take everything that was said (by citizen advisory panel members) and see what we can do to address their concerns. We agree that the time to fix the issues is now, not later."

The role of the citizen advisory panel was never well defined and, as a result, its members have been underutilized, said Unum Chief Financial Officer Bob Greving, another panel member.

Mr. Greving said he and several other members, none of whom face the political pressure that school board members do, are willing to step up and offer more of their time and expertise if school administrators will allow them.

"I'm not sure the administration really knows how to use us," he said.

Mr. Greving said he has suggested that a smaller group of advisory panel members meet more often and for a longer amount of time with Superintendent Jim Scales and Mr. Kranz to offer recommendations. He also offered his time to visit Rotary clubs or parent-teacher associations to help people understand the budget situation.

"There's a number of us who would be ready, willing and able to spend more time with them (school administrators) in trying to help them out. Maybe we'd just be an obstacle," he said. "We were asked to help, so we're just trying to find ways to do that."

And there will be plenty of opportunity to continue helping in the future, Mr. Kranz said.

School board member Jeffrey Wilson said he understands why citizens might be frustrated, but that part of the problem is that administrators got behind schedule.

"When the emotional issues and the politics come in, you end up having to scale back," he said.