Schools out to meet budget challenges

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The desperate state of school and County budgets was a topic of discussion at a school board work session last week.

"We have a chance to come together and brainstorm," said chairman Mike Keny to start off.

"There are more challenges there (with the County commission) than we're aware of," said Craig Michael, reporting on the March 25 Education Committee meeting. "My impression is the County is more concerned with their maintenance agreement than with educating our children."

"Anybody who was there knows it was serious," said Keny. "It was discouraging. We've got our work cut out."

Michael noted at that meeting budget committee chairman commissioner Mickey King referred to cutting the school budget by "five percent of $34 million." In fact, the County's portion of the school budget is $11 million.

"Either he doesn't know what is contributed from the County to the school system," Michael said, "Or he doesn't think some of us are very smart. I didn't receive it well."

"We reminded them they can't fund us less than last year -- that's state law," schools director Roy Dukes said.

"We're all in deep trouble," said Barbara Kennedy. "We're going to have to tighten our belts; cut jobs; eliminate raises." She told board members some workers at Cosmolab had taken a one-third cut in pay just to keep a job with insurance, and one Tennessee county challenged its teachers to give up "step raises" or have 35 positions cut.

"We've got to cut," Kennedy concluded. "We can't make the commission give us money."

"They've got to give us what they gave us last year," Ann Tears said.

"What they gave us last year won't cover what we need to do," said Kristen Gold.

"We need to get some numbers on what's mandated and what's top priority," Michael said. "Get a number and see what the gap is."

"What do we cut?" asked Tears. "Extracurricular activities? Buses?"

"We've got to keep our staff," said Randy Perryman.

"It's a rough situation," Dukes said. "We can't make this a hardship for our children. We have to prepare a generation for the future -- we don't want our Marshall County children left behind."

"We all agree with that," Gold said. "But we're only going to have this amount of money. We have to make decisions on what preserves education and meets budgeting constraints. By our meeting on the 19th we should have an estimate of the BEP (Basic Education Program) funding. Janet (Wiles) will bring back a budget with additions, and Mr. Dukes' ideas for redirecting funds, and then we'll be at the point Craig is talking about."

"We're not looking at the opportunities we can have with investing in education," Michael said later, in a telephone interview. "With a better educated work force, we can have better jobs and higher property values. With the right decisions, Marshall County can separate itself from surrounding counties."