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Kingsport school officials plead case for extra money

April 14th, 2008 12:00 am by Matthew Lane



KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools officials made their case to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday about why the school system needs an additional $917,200 in operating funds next fiscal year.


KCS and Board of Education officials came before the BMA during a work session Monday afternoon and discussed the proposed fiscal year 2009 school budget, the challenges facing the school system, and the reasons why the system needs additional funding.


The proposed school system budget stands at just under $69 million, which is a 2.9 percent increase over last year. The budget includes 18.5 new teaching positions and one custodian position. Other increases in the budget can be attributed to increases in health insurance ($191,800), instruction funds ($395,300), textbooks ($87,384) and adult basic education ($81,300).


The budget also includes $350,000 in new capital expenditures such as re-coating the Dobyns-Bennett High School dome, resurfacing the D-B track, and repairs to the roof at Johnson Elementary.


The school system’s budget originally had a $1.6 million shortfall. That was whittled down to $1.3 million — the current shortfall. Director of Schools Richard Kitzmiller said Monday the BOE has directed staff to make an additional $400,000 in cuts to get the shortfall down to the $917,000 mark — the amount requested of the BMA.


The reason why the school system needs the additional funding, according to BOE Chair Randy Montgomery, is because outcomes are up and revenues are down. According to KCS data, school funds allocated from Sullivan County are only expected to increase $50,000 (0.2 percent) from last year.


“In spite of all the hype, Sullivan County is standing still and not growing. The economic activity and population ... it’s flat,” said Alderman Ken Marsh.


Another reason for the increased funding is to cover the cost of the 18.5 new positions — almost of all of which are needed to meet existing federal and new state mandates, such as the Tennessee Diploma Project.


The TDP is a part of the American Diploma Project Network, which aims to align school curriculum for students to meet high standards and to make tests and graduation requirements reflect college and work force readiness.


Kitzmiller said the state, under the TDP, has increased math and science requirements for graduation, required personal finance instruction, and called for more rigorous assessments of students. To help meet these goals, KCS is redesigning its K-12 path by having one high school diploma and increasing math, science and social studies requirements.


“We are moving to higher requirements for graduation, so that at the end of the high school experience, students are college and work force ready,” said Damon Cathey, KCS assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.


Kitzmiller said KCS is estimating an enrollment increase of 115 students next year — another reason for the additional teaching positions. However, since these are projections, the state has not allocated any per-pupil funds for those students. If KCS were to see an additional 115 students in the system next year, the state would allocate approximately $690,000 to KCS.


“We will need to start the school year with those teachers. We can’t wait until the money comes later on,” Kitzmiller said. “We need to base our staffing on the number we know, and our May estimate from the state may go up, but we don’t know at this point. We just know what we think the student population is going to be, and we’re coming up with best bet of how to staff and fund those.”


Following the presentation, BMA members asked a variety of questions about funding, the teaching positions and the state of the economy in general.


Mayor Dennis Phillips said one of the things that concerns him is that City Manager John Campbell plans to present a city budget that is “tight.”


“We’re down to the point of deciding whether to give the Kingsport Ballet $5,000 or $4,500. It’s that tight,” Phillips said. “There’s zero budgeted for a school increase. Any funds we give the schools will have to come from a decrease in expenses.


“Our sales tax revenue is down considerably — the state’s projecting $300 million less. The concern I have is we have other employees we have to look at.”


Phillips asked Campbell, “Where’s the money coming from?”


“I don’t know for sure right now,” Campbell said. “There are some question marks out there that can’t be answered right now.”


One of big question, Campbell said, is if Kingsport is being treated fairly in the state Basic Education Program (BEP) formula, since Bristol and Johnson City are getting considerably more than Kingsport.


“We need to figure that out,” Campbell said. “There’s a disparity, and we need to get with our legislators and find out what’s going on.”


Campbell said the BMA would receive the proposed city budget on May 1, which will include the school system’s budget without the $917,000 funding increase. The BMA will then decide if or how it will fund the $917,000 request.


“There’s little chance our income will be up from what we’ve budgeted,” Phillips said.


“The message is pretty clear (from the BMA) to not have a tax increase,” Campbell said.


Marsh said people looking at the economic circumstances have to be smoking something to think revenues will increase significantly this budget year.


“We’re in a flat spot. We’re also in a spot where inflation will be a lot higher than we’re accustomed to,” Marsh said. “Budgeting has to deal with the realities of that.”


In other business Monday night the BMA discussed a $13.2 million bond issuance to cover the cost of the proposed Kingsport Center for Higher Education. The BMA is expected to vote on the bond issuance during its regular meeting tonight. The BMA will also likely move to allocate $1.15 million of that issuance back to the general fund, which covered the cost of land acquisition for the center and other proposed projects within the Academic Village.



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