Schools will cut $3 million from budget

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cutting $3 million from the 2009-2010 budget is the school system's goal, Stan Curtis announced at a meeting of the county commission's education committee.

The director of schools announced that the school board's budget committee had reached this decision at their meeting last week. He said it would be especially difficult to achieve because salaries and benefits are 85 percent of the school system budget.

"We've got to look long and deep as to where we can make the first cut," said Curtis.

He doesn't want to create panic by announcing that the school system is going to cut jobs, and he doesn't want to eliminate any educational programs, so Curtis says what they're going to do is look at everything they're doing to see if it's being done efficiently and cost effectively. He envisions making little savings in a lot of places, hoping they add up to the $3 million that needs to be cut from the budget.

"Our first line of defense is to become more efficient," Curtis said.

He announced that he had heard from the state that they intended to fully fund the Basic Education Program and the existing pre-kindergarten program, but intended to cut $40 to $70 million from other parts of the education budget. He's also hoping for increased Federal funding, and for the Edulog software to make transportation more economical.

"We can't go on doing things just because they're what we've always done," Curtis said. "We've got to ask all the questions."

On another topic relating to money, the group returned to discussion of centralized accounting. County commission chairwoman Mary Ann Neill announced that she, and other interested parties, would be taking a field trip to Shelbyville on Friday, Feb. 13, in order to study first hand a county which had been successful with centralized accounting.

"Is it (centralized accounting) going to cost anybody their job?" asked commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel.

"No," replied Neill. "It's part of the plan that nobody loses their job, though they could experience an income change. In Bedford County they had growing pains but they've saved money."

"If we're going to Shelbyville," said Curtis, "We should also have a trip to Centerville (Hickman County) where it's not been effective."

Curtis, joined by his budget director, Janet Wiles, spoke out against centralized accounting at an earlier meeting. He says only about 20 Tennessee counties have centralized accounting, and some of those have pulled the schools out of it.

"If I'm going to be held accountable," said Curtis, "I want a say-so in how we spend our budget." He also pointed out that centralized accounting takes control away from the school board, who now makes both policy and spending decisions.

"I'm leaning heavily towards it (centralized accounting)," said Neill, "But I want to learn more."

Larry McKnight, chairman of the education committee, asked his sub-committees for their reports, but there were none, so he urged them to get active again and have some reports for the next meeting.

"Don't forget we're committed to visit a school," McKnight reminded his committee members Rocky Bowden, Jimmy Stitt, Billy Spivey, and Don Ledford. "We need to learn more about what goes on in the schools."

"It would be a good idea to schedule a visit to Westhills or Marshall Elementary," said school board member Craig Michael, explaining that those schools are especially interesting because they are making the transition to housing kindergarten through sixth grade in the same building.

"Would it be OK to set up forums with students and teachers when we visit the schools?" asked Stitt.

"Yes," said Curtis, "That would be great if you set it up in advance."

Stitt also asked why the effort to merge the county and school system's maintenance departments fell apart at the "eleventh hour" after it was discussed this summer as an alternative to renewing Carrier's contract with the county.

Now that the county is having to rethink the deal with Carrier, the group agreed there was an opportunity to investigate a merged maintenance department again. Michael suggested a joint meeting of the two building and maintenance committees.

"That would be a good idea," said Bowden.

"Yes," said Neill. "We'll get an answer as to why it fell apart and see if we can put it back together."

The County commissioners' building committee is meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5.

Chairman McKnight ended the meeting by saying that for their next meeting the education committee would have a formal agenda again, instead of allowing the free-form dialog that has characterized the last few meetings.