Proponents ask Sullivan to allow BOE to fund alternative school

J. H. Osborne • Sep 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Proponents of an “alternative school” for Sullivan County’s school system say it offers a “win-win” for everyone — students who would go there, students who would not, teachers, parents and the community as a whole.

Funding for a planned alternative school was cut recently from this year’s proposed school system budget.

On Thursday night, Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Ron Smith and several school system employees appealed to the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee to allow the school system to fund the alternative school.

Sullivan County Education Association (SCEA) President Teddi Adler said an alternative school for the county system has been a dream for 10 years.

Adler spoke to the Sullivan County Board of Education earlier in the week, and said SCEA members were very upset that budget cuts killed proposed funding for the alternative school.

Adler appealed to the BOE to reinstate funding for the alternative school, which had been budgeted to open mid-year, and use money from the system’s fund balance to pay for it.

Last month, the BOE voted in favor of more than $1 million in cuts from the county school system’s yearly budget proposal, a move demanded by the County Commission’s Budget Committee.

The school system’s original $91.4 million budget plan did not seek new money from the county. It would not have required a tax increase.

It did, however, call for using about $2.6 million of the system’s estimated $6 million reserve to balance estimated expenditures and projected revenues.

Budget Committee members said that was too much and told school officials to identify more than $1 million in cuts.

The Budget Committee voted to set the school system’s budget at $90.4 million, an increase of about $60,000 from last year.

Subsequent cuts approved by the BOE included $371,000 for the long-planned alternative school — pushing the project to the back burner for now, with no funding in this year’s budget.

Smith and Adler said an alternative school would keep more students in the system — which would mean more state funding.

That’s because it would, as the name says, be an alternative — giving students who would otherwise be expelled a chance to continue their education, Adler said.

“It would offer hope ... not the end,” Adler said.

Smith said giving students an alternative to expulsion could mean recouping $84,000 per year in lost state funding.

More importantly, Smith said, the alternative school would give the students in question a chance to finish the school work needed to get a high school diploma — and all the future job and educational opportunities that brings.

“These are not bad kids,” Smith said. “They just made bad choices.”

Adler told Budget Committee members the alternative school would have multiple positive impacts, including:

•lower class sizes throughout the system;

•students with disruptive behavior would be out of the general student population;

•greater opportunities to counsel troubled students;

•allowing students to earn course credits — and improving the county system’s graduation rate;

•providing a better environment for students with personality or behavioral disorders.

In all, the BOE approved cuts included $655,500 for non-personnel items and $376,000 for personnel, Barnes said. That $376,000 for personnel is in addition to about two dozen teaching positions already eliminated from the system.

The system’s new total budget for the fiscal year that began nearly two months ago is $90,399,999.54.

With estimated revenues of about $88.8 million, the budget approved by the BOE on Wednesday uses $1.6 million of the school system’s estimated $6 million fund balance.

The Sullivan County Commission could vote on the county’s budget, including the school system’s budget, at a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 15 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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