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Kingsport schools outline funding issues at lunch

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Jan 10, 2007 at 10:12 AM

KINGSPORT - School budget planning may not be everyone's idea of good lunch conversation, but it certainly can have a big impact on what goes on in the classroom each year.

The Kingsport Board of Education helped parents and educators understand the complicated budget and school funding process Wednesday during a brown bag lunch session at Roosevelt Elementary School.

"What you see on these (budget and per-pupil expenditure) charts is important for you as citizens to understand that we have tremendous support for education in Kingsport," BOE member Wally Boyd said. "Our city talks the talk, but they also walk the walk. We would be very fortunate if the state of Tennessee had that same attitude."

David Frye, Kingsport City Schools director of finance, said including debt service, Kingsport has a per-pupil expenditure of approximately $8,700 - about 55 percent of which comes from city and county sources. Nationally, the average expenditure per pupil is $9,500. In Tennessee, the average is $6,500.

In 2006-2007, the KCS budget totaled $63.7 million - approximately 75 percent of which went to personnel costs. Frye said, based on preliminary calculations using the Consumer Price Index, that the budget is expected to increase at least $1 million for 2007-2008. Funding comes from a variety of sources including state, federal, city and county sources.

For 2007-2008, however, state funding is still a matter of uncertainty.

"Since the early '90s, the key thing that Tennessee has been working on has been equity as opposed to adequacy," Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said. "They've been worried about ‘Do small rural schools get enough money?' And now the equity is ‘Are the big cities getting the right amount of money?'

"Sort of hidden in the background of all that is that we're still fighting over a pie that's too small. Tennessee's total amount of education money - putting in state, local and all that - is just not adequate for what is expected ... for every student at every school."

Kitzmiller went on to outline several alternative plans proposed to overhaul school funding at the state level in addition to the current 95-county model.

Alternatives include the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations plan, which incorporates a district-level fiscal capacity model; a draft plan that is still being worked on by the Basic Education Program review committee (of which Kitzmiller is a member); a plan from Tennessee Comptroller John Morgan, which includes a mandatory education tax for all counties; and a plan from Gov. Phil Bredesen, which has yet to be announced.

No matter what plan the state ultimately decides on, the effects - positive or negative - will be felt during the 2007-2008 budget cycle.

In total, Frye said the budget process takes four months each year and involves a series of budget requests from schools, committee meetings and approvals. The process for the 2007-2008 budget year began in December when materials were given out and will continue through April when the final budget is presented to the Kingsport Board of Mayor Aldermen.

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