Students in a small, financially struggling school district in northern Tennessee will return to classes next week after fall break is over, the school director said.
The move comes after two parents filed a lawsuit over the school board's decision last week to close schools until a funding dispute with county officials could be resolved.
The suit was filed in Chancery Court by Tracy Ford and Christopher Kane, but has since been moved to federal court due to questions about whether the 1,150 students in the district would be denied their constitutional right to equal protection under the law since other school districts would continue to educate children.
Clay County Director of Schools Jerry Strong says the funding dispute stems from partially unfunded government mandates and the county's inability to generate more tax revenue.
The county commission, which funds the schools, declined the board's repeated requests for a funding increase. The board responded by not approving a budget, and the state stopped providing Basic Education Program funding.
Education Department spokeswoman Ashley Ball said all BEP funding will be restored after an approved budget is submitted to the state. Ball said other Tennessee districts have on rare occasions gone past Oct. 1 without passing budgets in the past but have sorted things out quickly.
The parents and Clay County officials maintain that the district has enough money to get through the current school year and can resolve its financial problems after voters decide in March whether to pass a wheel tax.
Strong conceded that there is enough money for the short term, but he said using that would deplete the district's resources and there's no guarantee that the wheel tax will pass.
"If we spend that, how are we going to put it back ... are we just not kicking the can further down the road to make it more difficult later on?" he said.
The lawsuit filed by parents says the school board lacks the authority to "reject the county's proposed budget and simply close its schools."
"The board of education may not like the budget, and they may have good reason," the lawsuit says. "Regardless, it has an obligation to operate the local school system."