Hawkins County BOE approves student transportation bill compromise with RCS

Jeff Bobo • Feb 10, 2014 at 8:27 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A dispute between Hawkins County’s two school systems over the most recent student transportation bill was put to rest Thursday night, and now the debate is ready to begin over how future bills will be calculated.

On Thursday, the Hawkins County Board of Education accepted Rogersville City School’s proposal to split the difference between what the two school systems believe it should have cost for city school students to be transported on county school buses during the 2012-13 school year.

The original bill of $90,349 was rejected by RCS, which had budgeted $80,000 for student transportation that year.

That budgeted amount was more than RCS had ever paid the county school system for student transportation.

A compromise approved by the RCS Board of Education at its most recent meeting last month was slightly more than $85,000.

On Thursday, the Hawkins County BOE begrudgingly approved that compromise by a vote of 5-2, with board members Holly Helton and Kathy Cradic voting against.

Director of Schools Charlotte Britton recommended against the compromise. She noted that the same formula has been used to calculate RCS’s student transportation bill since she took over as director.

Britton said there are also several expenditures the county school system absorbs that aren’t reflected on the annual RCS bill.

“We pay the liability insurance on all of the buses, and that calculation is not in this formula,” Britton told the BOE prior to its vote. “We provide the in-service training for all of our bus drivers. We pay the bus drivers 185 days, and they only pay for the days the bus driver is actually on the road. That can be a difference of 28 days in the past, and we’re paying the bus drivers for that time. The debt we’re paying on the buses is also not in this calculation. I feel that it is a very fair formula that we have set up and followed since 2007.”

Britton added, “I would like for things to work out ... but we’re out that money when we negotiate for this.”

Board Chairman Randy Collier said it would probably cost more than $5,000 if a lawsuit was filed to collect the billed amount.

Representatives from RCS and the county school system meet today at 5 p.m. to begin working on negotiations for a new student transportation billing plan.

Until now, the billing formula has been based on “a gentleman’s agreement,” but Collier said it needs to be in a contract so that both sides know what to expect.

Board member Chris Christian made the motion to accept the RCS compromise. He said both the school systems should enter today’s negotiations “with a clean slate.”

In other business Thursday, the BOE:

•Agreed to reserve May 21-23 as full school days if the school system exceeds the 10 snow days allotted on the calendar every year. So far, the school system has used eight snow days. Graduation would still be on May 24.

•Agreed to send a letter to Rogersville City School and the Kingsport Board of Education announcing the intention of the Hawkins County BOE to possibly maneuver property tax revenue in a way that would cost both city systems revenue. A similar plan proposed for the 2013-14 school year would have some shifted property tax revenue to the transportation department, which unlike the general fund, doesn’t share county sales tax revenue with city school systems.

The Hawkins County BOE withdrew that plan at the 11th hour after the city of Rogersville complained about losing more than $60,000 in revenue after its budget had already been completed.

•Requested a report from Central Office staff on the feelings of teachers and administrators about eliminating the final exam exemption that some students receive based on their good grades throughout the semester.

The issue was previously raised several years ago, at which time it was suggested that schools do their students a disservice by not requiring everyone to take final exams. During the initial debate, it was suggested that final exams will prepare college-bound students for what is expected of them after high school.

Christian asked that the subject be discussed again and a committee possibly be formed to determine if final exams should be required of all students. Formation of that committee is pending the results of the Central Office report.

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