CHURCH HILL — After missing all of 2020 due to the pandemic, Hawkins County’s Camp Hope made a big splash this week, reopening for the first of seven camps this summer.
This week’s 95 teen campers especially made a big splash on Friday.
Thanks to the rain, Wednesday and Thursday were mostly limited to indoor fun.
They made up for lost time Friday, however, with a tubing/canoeing trip down the Holston River from the Derrick Park boat ramp in Church Hill to the Laurel Run Park boat ramp.
Their river adventure lasted about two hours, including a stop at a swimming hole near an island along the way.
If the boys weren’t awake by the time they hit the river at 9 a.m., that cool morning water opened their eyes. The girls took advantage of the afternoon sunshine, which helped make their floating experience less chilly.
While the boys were floating in the morning, the girls were back at Camp Hope involved in “Squad Wars,” which is a series of competitions between occupants of various cabins. In the afternoon it was the girls’ turn at the river, and the boys went to war.
Camp Hope is a Christian summer camp located in the New Canton community just west of Church Hill.
It’s owned and operated by Hawkins County’s Hope Community Church, and each day begins and ends with gospel teaching.
In between, there are a lot of fun things to do such as horseback riding, zip-lining, arts and crafts, GAGA (dodge ball for your feet), human foosball, nature hikes, and most of the other traditional summer camp activities.
This week’s group checked in on Wednesday and will go home Sunday morning, possibly with some very dirty laundry.
On Saturday, there’s zip-lining scheduled, followed by the Squad War finales, which camp director Boe Beach said will involve large quantities of mud.
Camp Hope, which opened in 2012, has always been free and will host a total of seven summer camps this year for 756 children. Two camps are for teens, and the other five are for pre-teens.
The theme this year is “The Ascent.”
“That means growing closer with Christ in our relationship with Him as we ascend upward,” Beach said Friday.
Aside from fun and games, the camp features sessions of Bible study, lessons on how to navigate scripture, and discussions on understanding what God’s word is saying.
“We have a quarter-mile-long zip-line, we have a rock climbing wall, and we have a thing called Swing by Choice, which is a very large swing,” Beach said. “We have a ton of fun outdoor activities. All of these are to get the kids here. The real purpose of getting the kids here is to share Jesus Christ with them. That is our desire. That is our mission, to be able to share Christ with the world.”
It’s church and it’s fun.
“Nothing wrong with being fun,” Beach said.
Although all of the camps are fully booked, there is a waiting list. If a child cancels, the next child on the waiting list gets that spot on a first-come, first-served basis.
Names are still being added to this year’s waiting list.
Generally, the registration day is announced sometime after the new year, and campers are registered online first-come, first-served.
“A lot of them here this week are returning campers,” Beach said. “We’ve been up and going since 2012, so we got to see a lot of kids be here every single year. A lot of ones who are here as teens were here as little children. It’s kind of cool to have them come back. Even though it was raining the first two days, they were excited to be back at Camp Hope.”
ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education approved its 2021-22 budget Thursday evening with a $5.9 million deficit, but Director of Schools Matt Hixson wants to emphasize that’s not as bad as it sounds.
Traditionally the school system overestimates expenditures and underestimates revenue to create a hefty margin of error on the side of safety.
For example, the 2020-21 county school budget was approved last year with a $4.6 million deficit, but is now projected to utilize only $500,000 in savings by the time this fiscal year ends on June 30.
That leaves an estimated $11.6 million in the school system’s undesignated fund balance heading into 2021-22.
One big spending increase in 2021-22 is reflected in changes to both the certified and non-certified salary scales that were ordered by the BOE.
“Board priorities for this budget were to clean up all salary schedules and create consistent increases for year-to-year service,” Hixson told the Times News on Friday. “We were also asked to find creative ways to aid in finding the best employees for all open positions and create opportunities for current employees to stay and feel valued. We are behind in salaries within the region and state.”
Hixson and school finance director Melissa Farmer were prepared to present the BOE Thursday with a proposed $4.6 million deficit in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.
Wednesday evening, however, the state made a surprise announcement that it was increasing minimum teacher pay levels.
Some school systems are already above those minimum levels and weren’t affected by the state mandate.
Even with the salary scale adjustments, Hawkins County wasn’t above that minimum and was forced to increase its teacher salary expenditure by another $1.3 million — creating an overall deficit of $5.9 million.
The budget was approved by the BOE 6-1, with the only no vote being cast by Tecky Hicks.
Hicks expressed concern that spending in the 2021-22 budget increased $2.4 million from the current fiscal year budget, not including the additional $1.3 million that was added to teacher pay due to Wednesday’s state mandate.
Hicks noted that the BOE had stated it would save $3 million by closing Keplar and McPheeters Bend at the end of this school year, which doesn’t appear to be reflected in the budget.
Hixson noted that the actual operational cost savings was $28,000 annually at each school. The $3 million was the amount of school maintenance and repair projects that the system now doesn’t have to complete at both schools.
The teachers from both schools were also absorbed into the school system to fill vacancies created by retirements and resignations, Hixson added.
Hixson told the board that it had to “step up” with regard to salaries if it is going to attract and maintain the best staff for Hawkins County students.
“The board asked us to do two things and one is to clean up every salary schedule and try to retain our employees at a competitive pay rate,” Hixson said. “I think we’ve done that.”
Hixson added, “We overestimate our expenditures and we underestimate our revenues, and we do that for a purpose: so that we set ourselves up for covering what we have to cover in our operational budget. Would I like to be tighter, and not present a $5.9 million deficit? Absolutely. But, considering the work that’s gone into these salary scales and what we need to do to protect recruitment and retention for our county, I do recommend the budget as proposed.”
With Thursday’s budget approval by the BOE, the next hurdle for Hixson and Farmer will be presenting the spending plan to the Budget Committee of the Hawkins County Commis- sion at its June 21 meeting.
The full commission will then be required to approve the school budget before it is finalized.