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Seeking to be average: County school system wants funding at state level

July 20th, 2011 10:55 pm by Kate Prahlad

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said he could guarantee he would never again appear in front of the County Commission’s Budget Committee to ask for additional money — but only if and when the county can fund the school system at a level equal to the state.
Tennessee spends $8,773 per student; Washington County currently spends $8,066. To reach the state average, the school system would need to spend another $707 per student.
Dykes, who appeared at a Budget Committee meeting Wednesday, said the schools budget remains $1.6 million out of balance, due to unfunded mandates and rising inflation costs. For the 2011-12 year, the schools would have revenues of $59,221,130 and expenditures of $60,886,272, leaving the system with a $1,665,142 deficit.
The proposed budget includes a 1.6 percent state-mandated increase for all Basic Education Plan employees. The state has provided some funding for some of those raises, but the rest would need to come from local funds. The Board of Education has also recommended an additional 1.4 percent increase in salaries across the board, to arrive at a 3 percent raise for all employees, both BEP and support staff.
To fund the 1.6 percent increase, it will take $371,000 of new money. The 3 percent increase would cost $929,000 for all employees, minus $264,000 of state funding, leaving the local cost at $664,000.
In addition, school officials added several previously cut items back into the budget, including two instructional assistants, technology funds, and one LPN position, all of which Dykes said were necessary for the schools’ operations.
Dykes said the most pressing problems could be solved if the county took money from its unappropriated surplus and gave the schools $2.6 million to fill its two largest gaps: the $1.6 million needed to combat inflation in the current budget, and the $1.2 million that has been “bleeding” the school system for four years since Grandview and Ridgeview schools were constructed, but not operationally funded.
Ultimately he would like to see the $1.6 million deficit remedied and the $1.2 million he says is owed the school system back in its coffers.
“It costs me $600,000 each year to run those schools,” he said. “We’ve never received those operating funds.”
With the $2.6 million from the county, the school system could begin its journey toward the state average per pupil spending.
“That would put us about $4 million away, about 50 percent there (to the state average for per pupil spending). That would be huge,” he said.
In the next eight years, he predicted the county could make up the remainder of the gap, and at that point he would no longer approach the county for any additional money for the school system during his tenure.

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