School Budget Movers and Shakers.

Tuesday night, the Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners held it’s final meeting with Interim Director Sherry Finchum at the helm, who will be replaced by the new Director of Schools Shane Johnson for the August meeting.

After the approval for the minutes of the May meeting, and the approval of Tuesday’s agenda, there were no items for discussion brought to the floor, and the meeting moved forward.

Most of the evenings agenda involved some final moving and shifting of the 2018-2019 budget.

The Tennessee Department of Education  released a new Minimum Salary Schedule for the 2018-2019 School Year on May 23, 2018 that will take effect on July 1.  The base salary for educators in the state of Tennessee is now $35,000 per year, which is an educator with a Bachelors’s Degree hired in with no experience.  Jefferson County Teachers now have a base of $35,262 per year.  The payment schedule approved by the School Board required some adjustment with the payment levels, that depend on the teachers’ education and experience.  The state lowered it’s BEP (Basic Education Program) contribution by a slight percent, coupled with the new guidelines, brought the portion of the budget to a $66,000 shortfall.  Some of the deficit would be covered, though, as Finchum explained, by the postponing the filling of an open kindergarten teacher position, that was not an immediate need.  County finance director, Langdon Potts, explained that there were also some funds from other accounts that were earmarked for this sort of shortfall, and both believed that the school system could cover the additional funding needed.  With the additional costs of utilities, which were undershot by about $30,000 in last years budget, the School Board is looking at around a $130,000 to $160,000 shortfall.  Potts recommended that the issue be re-visited in August or September, once the “dust settled” and they get in to the new school year.  “To see what our utilities are running, to see what our BEP is, to see what our rollover is from this year, before we make an amendment”.  He believed that they had a healthy fund balance, and it was too early to react to the items that could cause a shortfall.  None the less, the budget is balanced, and compliant with state regulations.

Aside from the amendments to the budget, also on the agenda was a survey, conducted by Shane Johnston at the request of the school board in the May meeting, of area homeschoolers.  The survey included an online component that consisted of nine questions and  was distributed to approximately 80 independent homeschool families.  In the outreach effort, they had 22 families respond.  Also, a sample group were mailed, in which two responses were received.   The findings stated in the reasoning for homeschooling, that 10% were religious, 15% were medical, 75% was a dissatisfaction with public schools.  Survey participants were also asked if they would be interested in a Jefferson County Schools Virtual / Blended Learning Environment, of which 52% answered yes.  Finchum presented options that included providing the services for the students that would be interested in the Virtual Learning Environment, which could have a total cost of around $240,000.    During discussion about the program, the suggestion was made to focus that money, that would come from the fund balance, on the 7,000 that are enrolled in the school system, instead of the roughly 470 students that are home schooled, thus shifting to the discussion of focusing said funds on repairs to the school.  Then, if there were any surplus in the budget, to begin these types of programs.  “I feel like we need to address why are 75% of our homeschoolers don’t want to be in public school” stated Board Member Ann Marie Potts, “we know that schools are good for our kids, and we don’t need to loose them”.   Board member Dusty Cox suggested reaching out to the ones who were interested in the program, and others, and meeting with them to see what could be improved.  The Board agreed to revisit this at a later time, after reaching out to the survey participants, and open the table for discussion.

To close out the meeting, Greg Williams of Appalachian Electric approached the board concerning a grant that they were applying for to make available broadband services to AEC Co-Op members.  A part of obtaining the grant is gaining the support of the local school board. which unanimously voted to support AEC in the pursuit of the grant.

The meeting closed with the decision to meet for the regular work session on August 9.  The board members also expressed their gratitude to Sherry Finchum, for the job she has done as Interim Director of Schools.