Sullivan schools send $89.5M budget to county for approval

Rick Wagner • Jul 12, 2012 at 10:28 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Teachers and school support staff in Sullivan County would get 2.5 percent raises and not face layoffs based on a proposed budget the Board of Education approved in a called meeting Thursday afternoon.

However, the school system has about 50 fewer teachers than it did last year because of a dwindling number of students and tightening up of classroom space and number of teachers across the county. Students fell from about 11,200 at the start of the last school year to 10,700 at the end of it to an estimated 10,650 for this August, Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said.

The BOE voted 7-0 for the proposed 2011-12 budget of almost $89.5 million — about $300,000 less than the amended 2011-12 budget. It was to be presented to the County Commission’s Budget Committee Thursday night and the full commission at its regular meeting Monday. A called BOE meeting may be held at 7 p.m. July 23 if further action is needed on the budget.

The budget was essentially the same one the board viewed in June except that it accounts for $1.5 million in additional revenue from a proposed county property tax rate increase of 20 cents that would include 9 cents for education — or 4.5 percent for the county system since it has about half (50.56 percent) of the enrollment among students in the county, Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., systems.

“The $1.5 million will be very helpful,” Yennie said.

He explained that the budget document shows only a $781,000 increase in property taxes from $23.427 million to $24.208 million. However, that was based on a comparison with the 2011-12 total amount of property taxes in the school budget.

Yennie said the decrease in the number of students and decrease in the amount a penny of the property tax rate generates meant that without the property tax rate increase, the school system was down in property tax revenue almost $750,000 before the extra $1.5 million.

So without the increase, the property taxes going to the school system would have been only $22.648 million, he said.

Based on a slight decrease of what each penny generates in revenue and a decrease in proportional student share, the county would receive about $1.5 million in additional money from the tax rate increase. The rest of the money to close a $3.8 million gap comes from $2.3 million in fund balance (reserves).

That leaves the system with about $2.9 million in fund balance, which is about $300,000 more than the 3 percent of total budget Tennessee recommends for a fund balance.

If the budget is approved, Yennie said he and his staff will work throughout the year to return as much as possible back to the fund balance. It serves as a source of cash flow, although tax anticipation notes may be needed, as well as being a “rainy day fund” for emergencies or unexpected expenses that may pop up throughout the fiscal year that runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.

One central office secretary has been laid off already, but if the proposed budget and tax rate increase are approved, no more layoffs would be needed.

Still, Yennie said the number of teachers fell from about 865 last year to 818 this year through attrition.

“Part of the way we balance the budget is we do not hire teachers we do not need,” Yennie said.

Aside from the raises, Yennie said the budget includes funding for PowerSchool, a student management system software program that will give parents access to grades and attendance online, new accounting software, and new instruction supplies including textbooks.

With additional money beyond the $1.5 million, Yennie said the system could do more, but he said the system is not moving backward, and he is pleased with Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a grades 6-7 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school operated jointly by Kingsport and the county starting in August in the old Brookside Elementary building.

The funding for that includes a little more than $500,000 in operational money from each system, plus $1 million in a two-year federal grant through Tennessee and administered by the Battelle Memorial Foundation and another $500,000 to East Tennessee State University to be an innovation hub for the school.

BOE members Jerry Greene and Jack Bales lauded the budget work of Yennie and Budget Director Leslie Bonner. BOE Chairman Ron Smith agreed and urged board members and the public to come to Monday’s County Commission meeting to support school funding.

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