Committee still won't OK school budget

Friday, September 10, 2010

Marshall County's school budget on Wednesday was rejected again by the county budget committee, even though committee members are different as a result of the August election.

At a joint meeting in the Courthouse Annex, the education committee voted in favor of recommending the schools' budget for adoption by all county commissioners, while the budget committee voted against it.

The commission meets Sept. 27 and, as county attorney Ginger Shofner pointed out, that governing panel has the power to change the budget without returning it to the committees, or the school board.

Commission Chairman Tom Sumners voted against giving the budget a favorable recommendation and explained his vote saying, "I'm not against the school system. I'm pro-education. I just want more time to look at it. I cannot act that fast on these kind of numbers."

A heated exchange developed between Commissioner Mickey King, who said the school budget should not take anything out of fund balance, and Commissioner Rocky Bowden, a former vice principal, who declared, "That's their money to spend."

King countered, "We have to put it back eventually," but Bowden stood his ground: "Not until they go below the three percent (fund balance requirement). There's no point trying to micromanage them."

King remained adamant.

"It's not their money," he exclaimed. "It's the citizens' money."

At this point school board budget committee chairwoman Kristen Gold said, "We were elected to spend the taxpayers' money, but we were also elected to provide the best possible education for the children for Marshall County.

"If we have to cut $800,000 (the amount the school board is proposing to spend from fund balance) it would have significant impact. Positions will be gone. Programs will be cut," Gold said.

Bowden agreed.

"It would be catastrophic," he said.

Without an exemplary education system, Marshall County won't get the businesses and the good-paying jobs, Bowden continued. "Williamson County proved it back in the '70s."

Gold thanked Bowden for his support.

"Investing in education is the best thing you can do for your county," she said.

Gold tried to re-assure commissioners that the proposed schools budget is a worst-case scenario.

"We're going to spend less," Gold said, "but I can't guarantee where or how."

Having already voted 3-2 to not give the schools' budget a favorable recommendation, the budget committee then voted 3-2 on another motion: to tell the school board they wanted to see a budget that did not spend into fund balance at all.

All of the school board members met at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, to make sure they all agreed on what Gold, schools director Roy Dukes and budget director Sheila Cook-Jones were going to present to the commission's committees that evening. Board members looked again at the modifications made to the budget at their Aug. 30 meeting, which included adjusting some salaries to match current realities, and identifying which expenditures were "non-recurring" and thus would not increase the county's maintenance of effort liability.

At the previous meeting, board members had voted to substitute an aide for one of the two teachers at the alternative school, but Gold urged them to think again. The savings achieved turned out to be only $10,000, she told them, saying, "I'm not sure a $10,000 change justified the potential effects," especially since the alternative school now has at least 15 students.

Board member Harvey Jones agreed: "If we've got a teacher there we need to keep her there."

Jones' motion to return the alternative school teacher to the budget was seconded by Ann Tears, and approved unanimously.

Board member Barbara Kennedy shifted the group's focus to another potential saving, the assistant director's position, recently awarded to Ken Lee, a teacher at Cornersville High School.

"Can we get through without an assistant director?" Kennedy asked. "We've gotten this far without it," and Gold pointed out that the work has been "handled for the past year."

Dukes responded that he still needed an assistant director. "There are lots of things an assistant director can be doing," he said.

Tears defended Dukes. "In order for Central Office to succeed, he needs to have what he thinks he needs," she said, and then asked directly, "Do you need an assistant?" to which Dukes replied, "Yes, I need an assistant."

The final motion to approve the budget, with the alternative school teacher returned to it, passed 6-3, with Kennedy, Gold, and new board member Donnie Moses voting no, while Tears, Jones, Dee Dee Owens, Mike Keny, Curt Denton and Randy Perryman voted yes.

Gold appealed to fellow board members to support her at the committees' meeting later that day, but no one did.