Kingsport BOE discusses cuts, but school officials hope for more funding

Rick Wagner • May 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — City school leaders Thursday night discussed cutting Advanced Placement classes in Latin and physics, elementary Spanish and non-specified career technical courses, fine arts classes and extracurricular programs.

The proposed cuts — to equal an $870,000 difference between the proposed city and school budgets — are to have savings attached to them, be prioritized and be given to Kingsport Board of Education members by Tuesday. A vote may come at the BOE’s June 4 meeting.

Of the classes proposed to be cut, some have low enrollment, while others are simply not mandated by Tennessee.

However, BOE members, Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller and school system Budget Director David Frye spent much of Thursday night’s non-voting work session trying to convince city officials of the need to come up with more funding for the school budget and avoid cutting $870,000 from the draft budget request.

“We thought we had been building a case (for $1.7 million in additional funding). Perhaps we had not,” Kitzmiller said.

Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote, who along with Alderman Pat Shull attended the meeting, said he fears increasing the maintenance of effort requirement would mean less money from the state in the future.

Kitzmiller, City Manager John Campbell and BOE President Susan Lodal said they need to let lawmakers and state officials know the Basic Education Program funding formula needs to be changed to stop penalizing school systems that spend more local money.

“We need to get that formula changed,” Campbell said.

However, Campbell also said tuition for out-of-system students should be reduced or eliminated to help fill the new John Adams Elementary School, set to open in the Rock Springs community in August.

Campbell said another 24 students added to the school — with 150 in-city transfers and 90 tuition students — would make the school self-supporting. Although Frye said it would take more students because extra teachers would have to be hired as the population increased, Campbell said he has accounted for hiring those teachers.

At any rate, BOE members said they upped tuition in the 1990s at the urging of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and would like the BMA’s opinion on the matter before they change tuition rates.

The BOE April 16 approved a general purpose school budget of just more than $59 million, including a requested increase in city funding of almost $1.76 million, as well as a debt service increase of $175,000.

However, Campbell at a May 11 BMA meeting proposed new funding of $800,000 including $300,000 in operational funding that would boost the city’s maintenance of effort requirement to about $8.3 million a year, $300,000 for one-time capital expenses, and $200,000 in one-time funds to address an operating deficit for Adams Elementary.

BOE member Wally Boyd asked about making more of the $800,000 recurring operational money subject to maintenance of effort or designating a portion of the city’s property tax rate for education.

Campbell’s draft budget leaves a shortfall of $870,200, including $155,950 in the operational budget, $367,250 to operate Adams Elementary, and $410,000 in capital.

Frye said the system could take $300,000 from its $2.1 million fund balance and still meet the Tennessee recommendation of having a fund balance equal to at least 3 percent of its budget.

Kitzmiller and Frye in a series of slides presented data showing a decrease in overall city funding, lumping operational and capital projects funded by bonds together. They also said the city funds in the school budget have fallen from 27 percent in 2002 to about 20 percent in the proposed budget.

Campbell, on the other hand, said capital and operational funds are usually considered separately.

“When the debt rolled off, we truly expected at least part of that to return to the operational budget,” countered BOE member Pat Turner in her explanation of the BOE’s understanding going back into the 1990s, when she and BOE Vice President Randy Montgomery said capital school spending funded by the city boomed but operational budget appropriations remained flat.

However, Campbell said the city has other needs, including new firefighters to staff two pending fire stations.

Annual tuition charges for the city schools are $1,200 for Sullivan County non-Kingsport residents, $2,200 for non-Kingsport Hawkins County residents and $3,200 for any other Tennessee resident, with Virginia residents charged about $9,000 a year, Kitzmiller said.

Kingsport could give a tuition break for some or all of its schools, to the Adams-area students who are about to be or could be annexed, or to children of school system employees, Kitzmiller said.

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