BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
An earlier proposal by the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee to remove three cents of property tax revenue from the county's Education Debt Service Fund still has some members of the Greene County Board of Education on high alert.
The board met in a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday for the first time since late June.
The Budget & Finance Committee proposed the revenue cut to the Education Debt Service Fund following a County Commission budget workshop in early July.
Because of this timing, the development and eventual dissolution of this proposal all occurred without any public input from members of the Board of Education.
During Thursday's meeting, board member Nathan Brown told fellow board members that he had been considerably concerned by the proposal, prompting him to ask Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk to contact attorney Chuck Cagle on the matter.
Cagle, attorney for the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS), replied to the inquiry via email on Thursday.
In the emailed letter, which Brown distributed, Cagle details the history of the Education Debt Service Fund, which uses county revenues to provide the county school system with capital needs.
The Fund was established with a 19-cent property tax increase.
But the Board of Education voted in 2001 to share in the funding with 25 percent of the school system's sales tax revenue in addition to up to $250,000 in state funds for the school system.
The goal was to maintain a $1 million balance in the Education Debt Service Fund.
"It is my understanding that the County Commission is now proposing to remove 3 cents from this fund and transfer the [revenue] to the county operating budget," Cagle wrote.
"Given the agreements reference herein, I find this proposition very problematic."
Cagle expressed his concern that the removal of these revenues from the Debt Service Fund would affect the stability of the Fund and the ability to meet the school system's debt obligations, especially with regard to the annual purchase of school buses.
"Finally, unilateral amendment of the resolutions by both governing bodies without seeking approval of the amendment from both bodies will result in the resolutions and agreements becoming void and of no force and effect," Cagle concluded.
"Hence, the school board would be relieved of any further obligation to dedicate any of its revenues, including sales and property tax, to the Education Debt Service Fund."
'MATTER OF PRINCIPLES'
The proposal to remove the portion of the revenues from the Education Debt Service Fund did not have enough support at an early August budget meeting for the Budget & Finance Committee to take the proposal for final consideration before the full County Commission.
School Board Chairman Roger Jones emphasized that, as a result of that workshop, losing the three cents appears to be no longer a concern.
He thanked Brown, however, for having looked into the issue at the time.
Brown said his point in continuing to bring up the issue even now is that it was a matter of principle since the Budget & Finance Committee and the County Commission did not address the matter with the Board of Education.
Brown urged fellow members to also watch closely to see how the commission's final vote on the budget during its called meeting on Friday, Aug. 30, affects the school system.
"It's a big vote next week," he said. "I know they have a tough job in trying to balance this budget."
In looking back at the prior year's budget, Budget Director Mary Lou Woolsey reported that the system closed the 2012-2013 school year with $330,000 in revenue above what had been projected.
The system did not expend $580,000 that had been budgeted.
These monies combined, Woolsey said, allowed the system to restore $700,000 expended from school system savings for capital improvements, and to add another $200,000 to the school system fund balance.
The board then looked ahead to some of the system's 2013-2014 budgets, and gave approval to the following:
* a $4.4 million food service budget;
* a $431,000 Race to the Top budget, which uses temporary state funds to provide professional development; and,
* a $7,000 Title III federal program budget.
IT Director Jason Patrick also received the board's approval to move forward with a Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Techonology Plan.
This plan will spend the state funds allocated this year for districts to begin preparing for online PARCC testing.
The state gave the school system $448,000 for this technology. Patrick said $393,000 is needed for wireless technology, while the remaining $55,000 could begin the purchase of devices (laptops).
The system will need nearly another $800,000 in devices, software, etc., to meet the minimum requirements for PARCC, a topic Patrick said the board will hear more about in the spring budget cycle.
The following policy changes also received the board's approval on first reading:
* Nepotism: To require all individuals being considered for employment by the system who are closely related to "a member of the board, the director of schools, an administrator in the system, a county commissioner, or any appointed or elected county official" to be publicly made known to the board prior to their employment.
Those who are considered relatives would include the following relationships: "spouse, parent, parent-in-law, child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece or any person who resides in the same household."
The system's current policy only prohibits a person's being employed in a capacity directly under a supervisor who is related to the employee.
The current policy does not require that public notice of the hiring be given.
* Emergency Preparedness Plan: To require that an "intruder drill" must be performed within the first 30 days of any school year.
* Suspension/Expulsion/Remand: The revision changes the policy so that it only requires one student to initiate a physical attack on another individual for such an attack to be considered a zero-tolerance offense.
Current policy states that it must be an attack by two or more students in order to qualify as a zero-tolerance offense.
The revision also adds a clause shielding from expulsion a student involved in a physical altercation whom the principal believes to have been acting in self-defense.
* Zero-Tolerance Offenses: To amend the subtitle "battery" to "assault" and to rewrite the section on bomb threats to detail any form of electronic threat, in which a student "transmits by an electronic device any communication containing a credible threat to cause bodily injury or death to another student or school employee and the transmission of such threat creates actual disruptive activity to the school."
Such offenses are those that require no less than one-year expulsion.
* Physical Assault Leave: To detail that the system shall pay full benefits if a teacher is placed on medical leave following a physical assault.
* Foreign Exchange Students: To set certain enrollment requirements, including age and educational background.
* Grievance Procedures: To allow for oral complaints.
* Family and Medical Leave: To add several new clauses allowing for such leave related to the deployment, temporary leave, and medical-assistance needs of an employee's spouse, child, or parent on active military duty.
The board approved the following items:
* donation of two school buses that the system can no longer legally run due to mileage or age to the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County, and another bus to Rural Resources;
* bids for software, propane, toilet paper and computers;
* volunteer coaches;
* a fee chart for the high schools;
* revisions to the job description for the college-and-career-ready data specialist;
* a softball press box paid for by donations at North Greene High School;
* reduction in the hours that auxiliary officers work, and a corresponding insurance reimbursement as a result of new legal requirements, as well as hiring of additional part-time officers. This is all at no additional cost to the system.
* a lease renewal of the old Sunnyside School building;
* the naming of Disciplinary Hearing Authority members; and,
* the job description for a district-wide instructional technology specialist and technology coach, and for a behavior specialist.