The Bradley County School Board on Monday again delayed approving the upcoming budget, instead asking for detailed information on teach pay.
The board convened before a full house during a special meeting to approve an already overdue budget that has been at the center of a debate over possible cuts and the school system's infrastructure issues.
The board room was filled to capacity, with an anxious crowd of Bradley school teachers and administrators, with several people watching the meeting from the lobby.
Board Chair Vicki Beaty opened the meeting with a warning that she would shut down the meeting if the audience and the board did not remain calm and professional during the proceedings. Bradley School’s business manager Rick Smith presented to the board, as requested, line by line comparison between the school’s system's proposed budget and the state of Tennessee’s BEP (Basic Education Program).
Mr. Smith prefaced this presentation with a prepared statement concerning the school system’s financial situation and how it relates to the BEP. In his statement he again explained that the BEP is merely a guideline and a very loose one at that and, while the BEP may suggest a certain amount of money be spent on a particular department or need, it only provides part of the funding. This funding is based on a sliding scale that is determined by a school system’s ability to raise funds itself.
Mr. Smith added that, while Bradley County has been able to raise more money than all but 15 of Tennessee’s other school systems, that it ranked 115 in per pupil spending; a disparity that Mr. Smith believes can and should be addressed.
He also made note of the fact the BEP suggests that a teacher earn a salary of about $40,000 for the 10-month school year and that only 10 percent of Bradley’s certified employees were below this. Moreover, the average licensed teacher in the school system earns upwards of $49,000 a year.
Mr. Smith pointed out several of the BEP’s shortcomings, saying, “The BEP is an outdated, antiquated, inadequate funding formula driven by available state revenue."
During his presentation Mr. Smith fielded a few question from the board before board member Chris Turner detailed for the board his own research on the matter. Mr. Turner pointed out again the state’s lack of funding for various items on the BEP, but went on to state that there are some items within that budget that deserve a second look.
He said, “The question is, how do we start the conversation about priorities. You look at the size and magnitude of these general brush strokes, total instructional expenditures, total student support, instructional staff, all other support, food services, and capital outlay. I think that is where this board has got to start some conversation.”
Mr. Turner also added that he believes that benchmarking and transparency are important, and that since the school system sets benchmarks academically, that it should be done fiscally as well.
Board member Troy Weathers responded, “Let’s get to the meat of what we’re doing here. What is the board wanting to do here? Are we wanting to cut positions or are we just happy where we’re at and we’re going to pass a budget? I’ve seen a lot of reports, but we haven’t really talked about what the meat is, what we’re here for.”
Board member Nicholas Lillios answered by repeating his request for a savings plan that will provide funding for future capital projects. He said, “Everyone has expenses in their home budget and one of those is the mortgage, and it tends to be the most expensive item in your budget. We are providing many of the other things, but we’re not paying our mortgage. We’re letting it slip year after year, so the meat of is this; we need to think about this, we need to think about where we’re going to be. The way the BEP formula outlays it, you should be able to replace every one of your buildings in 40 years. Under our lack of planning, we won’t replace any building in any year.
“Where we are in relation to our tax base, that is a discussion that happens year after year, and nothing has ever changed. When running for this office, every door I went to said just ‘don’t raise my taxes’. Every commissioner that ran their race, I didn’t see a single one of them say that they were going to raise taxes to pay for schools. We have to be real. We have to be real about what’s happening in our county. There is not going to be additional tax funding, but our buildings will collapse one day. We will have to rebuild them. Let’s make a plan on how we’re going to rebuild our buildings. The state plan says in that $6.2 millionset aside would give a new building for all our schools in 40 years. Just think about some of the building out there, could they even last 40 years? All I’m saying is $2 million and that puts us out at 70 years. So, if you’re out at Hopewell or Taylor are you willing to wait 70 years for a new building? Are our kids waiting for that? Are we really preparing for my kids, my grandkids, your grandkids? What we’re doing right now is just taking care of today. I want to take care of tomorrow.”
Board member Rodney Dillard added that the school system is spending about 13 percent above what the BEP suggests. He said, “You’re going to have to start throwing out something.” He asked where are the cuts going to come from, saying, “Are we going to cut teachers, are we going to cut teachers’ salaries from 50 to 40 thousand. I mean that’s where we’re at now.”
Board member Charlie Rose made a motion requesting that Director Johnny McDaniel provide for the board a list of the system's certified faculty thats shows what they teach, to how many students, and how each position is funded. The motion also requests a list of the certified staff members of the central office. Mr. Rose initially requested that these lists be numbered and nameless, but Director McDaniel suggested that this would be quite difficult and probably unnecessary.
Board member Weathers asked how long would take for the report to be put together because action is needed now. He said, “We jerked a lot of people around in my opinion and we have teachers out here that are going to be looking for other jobs somewhere else.” His comment caused an uproar of agreement amongst the crowd of upset Bradley teachers, causing Board Chair Beatty to loudly bang her gavel.
Mr. Rose’s motion passed by a vote of 6 to 1, with board member Christy Critchfield casting the lone dissenting vote. Ms. Critchfield made a motion to approve the budget, stating that the board is already well behind schedule and that these problems aren’t going to be fixed in short order. That motion failed by a vote of 4-3, with board members Troy Weathers, Rodney Dillard, and Christy Critchfield voting in support of approving the budget.
Ms. Critchfield later commented, “I am all about getting information, I just don’t see how this information is going to change our current budget. No one has made a motion to cut anything, they’re just speaking in broad terms about where is the money, how can we save money, but they’re giving no direction to our director of schools. In my opinion we should be passing the budget, so our teachers have security and then have the discussion on what we need to do moving forward into the next budget year. If they wanted to do this we should have started with it about eight months ago.”
The board will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday in order to look over and discuss the requested information.