The Bradley County Board voted Wednesday to approve a modified budget that includes a capital projects fund and the elimination of five teaching positions.
The meeting began with a plea for civility from Board Chair Vicki Beaty, saying that she encourages discussion and questioning as long the board and those in attendance conduct themselves in a professional and respectful manner.
The board quickly approved the central cafeteria budget and moved on to review the general purpose budget.
Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel informed the board that he was present for their approval of the same budget that had as yet to pass. Board member Troy Weathers quickly made a motion to approve the budget as is. After a second from board member Christy Critchfield, more discussion over the particulars of the budget began.
Board member Chris Turner asked Bradley schools’ business manager Rick Smith to explain the change in the amount of equity in the budget. Mr. Smith explained that equity, as it applies to a school budget, is the projected reserve, or surplus from a given year’s budget. He said that officials try to estimate incoming tax revenue as conservatively as possible, as they are susceptible to economic change, especially sales tax.
He also said that when planning a budget they try to hold the line as far as spending goes. He said, “If I budget a one percent growth and we have a four percent growth, that’s $300,000 better than budget. That’s how your equity account contracts and expands.”
Mr. Turner asked, “So we have budgeted to spend $1,400,000 more than we take in?” Mr. Smith responded that the previous year’s equity surplus is counted as part of the current budget’s spending plan and that it is likely that most of it would not be put to use.
Board member Nicholas Lillios interjected, “So, we saved last year and we’re calling it income this year?”
He continued, “We’ve got a situation where revenue is down and expenses are up and that concerns me greatly. That’s not talking about capital or anything else, that’s operating expenses."
"We’ve got a spending problem of $1.6 million dollars,” added Mr. Turner. Director McDaniel told the board that the use of the equity funds is just part of how the school system has always done its budget, and that the extent to which those monies are used always fluctuates. Mr. Turner responded, “I guess we just have a different definition of what a balanced budget is.”
After some back and forth over the finer details of the budget, Mr. Turner introduced a substitute motion to approve the budget with some modifications that included the elimination of five unfilled positions, and the transfer of the $250,000 that would be used to pay for those jobs into an account that will be used to pay for long term capital projects.
Mr. Turners proposal also contained a plan to move about $300,000 of the equity fund into the proposed long term capital projects fund. The motion included a request that monthly fiscal reports be prepared for the board. He said, “It is imperative in my opinion that we become very aware and that this board have financial understanding of all expenditures so that as we prepare for next year we have a very firm understanding of where our priorities lie."
Troy Weathers suggested that if the board is going to cut five teaching positions, then the board should first give up its salary. He said, “I will not vote for this if we don’t give up our pay first and any compensation that we get for travel or anything else. If we’re going to eliminate five teaching positions, and that’s what we’re doing, don’t let anyone fool you that’s what’s happening. That’s just truth, we’re not stupid.”
Board Chairman Beatty said, “Mr. Weathers, I’m not debating whether or not school board members should be compensated, but to say that we are eliminating five teaching positions is actually not true. We know that every year that some schools lose teachers and other schools gain teachers. I don’t think that there is a single board member that would vote to eliminate people who have positions currently in this district. I feel that because a resignation, because of BEP requirements, because of retirements, that in this budget we can do it and no one is going to lose their job.”
After a short recess, the board voted 5-2 to approve the altered budget, with Christy Critchfield and Troy Weathers casting the dissenting votes. After the vote, board member Rodney Dillard said, “I want the public to know that I didn’t just vote for eliminating five teachers, I voted for this county to move on. This has been a bunch of garbage we’ve been through.”
Mr. Dillard added that the budget debate has caused a lot of bad feeling and left a lot people concerned as to whether or not a budget would get through and that he voted yes to make sure that the school system’s children and teachers have what they need when school begins.
Board member Weathers said that two months ago he warned that jobs would be cut. He said, “There will be more jobs cut next year; this is just the beginning. More teachers will be going home. If you don’t believe that, just sit around and watch because you may not have believed that you were going to lose five positions, but you lost five today. You lose 10 the next year and 20 the next, but it’s coming.”
Board Chair Beatty said, “If we do not do something that could easily happen. It could happen if we are not conservative and protect the salaries of our teachers and the positions we have. As I said, no job has been eliminated and no one is going to lose their job.”
The board also approved a $1.4 million capital outlay budget.
Bradley County School Board members
- Photo2 by Tony Eubank