The state shortchanged Hawkins County Schools to the tune $350,000 this year, a portion of which will be used to ensure there is enough money to pay bus drivers through the end of the school year.
District 2 Board of Education member Chris Christian, who represents Church Hill, suggested using about $250,000 of that “found money” to pay for unscheduled facility improvements at Volunteer.
Cherokee High School received a $437,000 elevator project this fiscal year, and Christian noted that traditionally when one of the twin high schools receives a project, something is done for the other school to maintain a spending balance.
Board members Holly Helton and Debbie Shedden disagreed. Shedden suggested that the funds be set aside for emergencies.
Following a discussion, the BOE decided to schedule a Building and Grounds Committee meeting to determine if the current capital outlay priorities need to be adjusted and if any Volunteer projects should be moved up the list.
During the Jan. 9 BOE meeting, Director of Schools Steve Starnes informed the board that the state had made a mistake in the system’s BEP (Basic Education Program) funding calculation.
As a result, Hawkins schools received an additional $210,000 from BEP as well as a mid-year adjustment of $140,000 for changes in insurance.
Starnes proposed putting $250,000 back into the general fund, mostly toward scheduled capital outlay projects, and allocating the other $100,000 for the Transportation Department.
“We’re putting the ($100,000) in the bus driver line item to make sure we have enough money to cover trips and that sort of thing for this spring semester,” Starnes told the board.
Christian noted that when Volunteer moved to a higher profile football conference a few years back and received new bleachers and restrooms to accommodate overflow crowds, Cherokee received funds to upgrade its sports facilities as well.
“There was an expenditure at Volunteer of about $186,000 during that project,” Christian noted. “We tried to do the same project at Cherokee, but because of the ground, the geology, we couldn’t do it. The same amount of money was allocated to Cherokee.”
Starnes noted that $67,000 was allocated to Cherokee at that time, and it was allowed to be spent for upgrades to the baseball and softball fields.
Starnes also pointed out that Volunteer recently underwent a $200,000 “life safety” project to bring the vocational arts building up to fire marshal standards.
A similar project didn’t take place at Cherokee because it wasn’t needed, Starnes noted.
Christian suggested the $250,000 could be used at Volunteer for increasing parking, addressing roof leaks and upgrading the football field press box, which he said is becoming a potential safety hazard. Christian noted that maintenance director Shannon Glass had reported a need for duct work upgrades at Volunteer as well.
Helton: “I disagree. We have a capital outlay list that has been compiled of needs. One school may need a certain thing where a certain school wouldn’t and vice versa. I personally don’t agree.”
Shedden: “I think we need to think about emergencies that are going to come up at various other schools, rather than allocating a lump sum to one school.”
BOE Chairman Bob Larkins suggested a compromise — to schedule a Buildings and Ground Committee meeting and see if the priority list needs to be adjusted.
“We try to prioritize those by need and necessity, and we may need to go back and look at that again and reprioritize,” Larkins said. “There’s nothing wrong with looking at that list again, and if we need to shift some things around, our committee can take a look at that again and make another recommendation.”