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Sullivan commissioners seeks answers on school system's funding request

J. H. Osborne • Jun 17, 2020 at 6:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee has declined to make any recommendation on the school system’s funding request for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and has instead invited education officials to attend a meeting Wednesday and to provide answers to a list of specific questions.

The school system’s requested budget for the upcoming year is $85.6 million, compared to its approved budget of $83.2 million for the accounting year ending June 30.

Background

The Budget Committee last met two weeks ago. Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable subsequently sent the following letter and list of specific questions to Director of Schools David Cox.

“Dr. Cox: Because the School Department’s FY 2020-21 budget proposal failed to receive a recommendation for passage by the Sullivan County Budget Committee, I am asking you and the School Board to further review the proposed budget and submit an amended version. Additionally, I am attaching a list of questions promulgated by Commissioners and staff addressing certain issues, some of which have been discussed but not fully addressed.”

If you go

The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse. The meeting is public, but attendance will be limited in order to observe social distancing guidelines.

In answer to an email seeking comment, Cox said he and other school officials plan to attend the meeting, some doing so by electronic participation, and will provide written responses to the panel’s questions.

The questions

• “Enrollment is down, three middle schools have been consolidated, two buildings have been closed, and the appropriations request has increased with more teachers. Please explain.”

• “How many staff members were assigned to the three middle schools before they were consolidated and how many are assigned to the new school? Please detail this by showing the number of positions before and after consolidation — teachers, principals including assistants, librarians, cafeteria workers, janitorial, school resource officer, etc.”

• “How did utility cost/usage compare in January 2019 (billed in Feb.) for the 3 consolidated schools to the one new school and Mary Hughes in Jan. 2020?”

• “What happened to the school resource officer position at Weaver when it closed?”

• “Approximately $2.4 million is requested for capital outlay throughout the General Purpose School Fund, $1,672,000 in the Renovation Fund, and $447,662 in School Nutrition. Please explain the projects involved in these requests.”

• “Please list any funding required to complete the school building program at either the new middle school or the West Ridge high school that is in excess of the 2017 bond proceeds.”

• “How do you arrive at the projected 2% loss in local shared funds, and why does this projection continue to be used when it has proven to be unrealistic in past budgets?”

• “How many teaching positions were in the (current year’s) budget? How many teaching positions are in the ... proposed budget?”

• “How many teachers retired at the end of the 2020 school year?”

• “What is the purpose of the new public information officer position?”

• “The ... proposed budget uses almost $5 million in reserves for increased recurring operational costs in the General Purpose School Fund. What is the plan for covering these increased costs once the current reserves run out?”

• “How much is the total cost of the 1% across the board raise built into the proposed budget? Will this continue to be proposed if the recommended raise for teachers is cut from the state’s budget?”

• “Please provide a copy of the May 31st Budget Report for all school funds. If this report is not available a trial balance of all funds including revenues and expenditures as of May 31, 2020.”

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