Hamilton County school board members have given themselves just six weeks to sort out their concerns over $14 million in budget cuts.
The board voted Thursday night to freeze all new hires and transfers at the central office, which stops Superintendent Jim Scales from shedding two assistant superintendent positions and eliminating the chief financial officer position, options he favored in reducing the administrative budget.
Scales had proposed those cuts as part of $700,000 in cuts to central office administrative staff, but board member Mike Evatt said Thursday he didn't like the new organizational chart. He said he proposed the freeze in hopes that by June 15 the board will have a clearer picture of what state funds might be made available.
"I'm not happy with the organizational chart and the way it's designed, and I think to protect our employees, right now, until we develop a budget ... we should put a freeze on any transfers," Evatt said.
His motion passed 6-2 with board member George Ricks abstaining. Linda Mosley and Jeffrey Wilson voted against the motion.
The continuation budget carries over all funding from the previous fiscal year - not including state-mandated "step" pay increases for teachers - at a level of $368 million. A full budget must be adopted by October in accordance with state law.
Thursday's meeting appeared to show at least some support for asking the Hamilton County Commission for more funding.
"We've been tightening our ship for five years," said board member Chip Baker, noting at least $26 million in cuts over the last three years.
Ricks and Mosley also indicated support for asking for more money.
"Ask your commissioners to adequately fund education," Ricks said. "There is nothing wrong with it."
Rhonda Thurman remained ardently opposed to the idea, calling it "immoral." But she also opposed Scales' money-saving central office shuffling and reductions in the school system's capital maintenance budget. She also said she wants the school system to fund a $100,000 JROTC program at Sequoyah High School.
She questioned Scales' cost-savings estimates, noting that his reduction in central office staff would allow highly paid administrators to take jobs elsewhere in the district without a pay reduction.
"Ms. Thurman, I couldn't agree with you more ... we need dollars, we need dollars, and if we had them we would not be in this situation," Scales said. "This board has a legal responsibility to come up with a balanced budget. You don't have any other options. How do you come up with a balanced budget? These are some of the recommendations."