ELIZABETHTON — The Elizabethton City School Board approved a budget request to City Council on Thursday seeking an increase of $375,000 in local funding to replace federal grants that are ending. The board also began the process of considering an extension of Superintendent Ed Alexander’s employment contract.
Alexander said the funding increase would be used to continue support programs that have proven successful in raising test scores, retention, graduation rates and other areas.
The vote to approve the budget request was unanimous even though some members expressed doubt the Council will approve it. Several board members, including Chairman Matt Cooter, asked why the request was being made now. There are still a couple of budget workshops scheduled for the board.
Alexander said the request was spurred by a city deadline of March 16 to submit budget requests. The board’s budget workshops are still set.
In addition to the increase in local funding, Alexander’s budget request also includes a proposal to fund a proposed football stadium and sports complex at Elizabethton High School and plans to add eight classrooms to T.A. Dugger Jr. High School and make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
That proposal had been approved by the school board during its October meeting. Under the proposal, the school board would forego the last five years of its portion of the half cent sales tax increase. In return, the school system would receive a $7.5 million loan funded by debt service in order to complete the projects.
Board member Catherine Armstrong was not optimistic the City Council would agree to the $375,000 increase in operational revenue.
“I feel uneasy going to City Council, knowing what the outcome will be,” Armstrong said.
She said it would mean a property tax increase. She asked if there were not areas in the school budget to find the funds. She mentioned items such as the school system’s share from county taxes, or other unrestricted funds.
Finance Director Beth Wilson said all revenues are already budgeted. She said any increase next year would be used to help close the gap not covered by the state Basic Education Program and the proposed 2.5 percent increase in salaries.
The city has provided the school system with $2,332,000 per year since 2001-02. Board member Rita Booher said it has been difficult to live on the same income for 12 consecutive years and the system’s employees have been good stewards with the local money.
Booher was the only member to speak during a time set for discussion on an extension of Alexander’s contract, which expires in September.
Booher cited data to show how the school system has improved under the six years of Alexander’s watch. Her points included his leadership in winning a referendum to provide the half cent sales tax increase for city schools.
She also said Alexander has provided vision in capital projects which were funded by the new money.
Booher also said the school system has become fiscally sound, with unrestricted fund balances increasing from $445,000 to $891,000. She said he also promotes the teachers and, most importantly, the students.