BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Several changes have been made to the 2012-2013 school calendar for students and staff in the Greene County School System following Friday morning's County Board of Education vote to delay school openings by a week.
While registration will still take place on Monday, Aug. 6, the county schools will not open until Aug. 15.
The delay will hold the start of school until after the Greene County Commission has met on the morning of Aug. 13 to approve all county budgets and the county property tax levy for the 2012-2013 budget year.
The school system's budget currently includes a $1.19 million projected deficit.
Several county commissioners have indicated that they may support a property tax increase to fund the shortfall.
The revenue derived from a property tax increase would be divided between the Greene County and the Greeneville school systems based on average daily attendance.
Based on recent attendance figures, this division would mean about 70 percent of the revenue would go to the county school system, and about 30 percent to the city school system.
In order to cover the complete anticipated county school system deficit with 70 percent of the revenue, the increase would need to be 12.94 cents per $100 of assessed value (not appraised value), Greene County Budget Director Mary Shelton said during a recent County Commission budget workshop.
Such a property tax increase could generate nearly $1.7 million, of which the Greeneville system would receive about $500,000.
Residential property is assessed in Greene County at 25 percent of its appraised value, so that, for example, a $100,000 piece of residential property would be assessed at a value of $25,000.
Should the County Commission not fund the anticipated deficit through a tax increase, County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk has proposed a list of possible cuts, including closing Glenwood Elementary School and eliminating all athletic coaching supplements.
School Board Chairman Roger Jones explained at Friday's school board meeting that Dr. Kirk recommended the delay in the opening of school to avoid having to make layoffs and student transfers after the school year has already started, if the County Commission did not increase local funding.
The board will meet again at 5 p.m. on Aug. 13 to set in place the school system's 2012-2013 budget, based on the County Commission's decision that morning, Jones announced.
"I don't think that we can make any real, heartfelt decisions until after the 13th," he said.
"We've got some big decisions to make," Jones later added of the next board meeting on Aug. 13. "We'll have to make some pretty tough decisions. Not pretty tough -- real tough."
The delay has prompted the following changes to the 2012-2013 calendar, according to school board Secretary Melissa Batson:
* Aug. 31 will no longer be a part of the Labor Day Holiday, leaving only Monday, Sept. 3, for that holiday;
* Oct. 15-16 and Nov. 21 will now be regularly-scheduled school days for students, rather than the previously-scheduled holidays;
* Dec. 18 will now be a full day, rather than an abbreviated day, while Dec. 19 will be an abbreviated day rather than a full holiday.
No dates will change in the second semester.
There has been no indication that the Aug. 17 start date for the system's football season will change, and practices are to continue as scheduled, according to a system-wide recorded announcement issued by Kirk late Friday.
ESP (the Extended School Program) will be open the week prior to Aug. 13, as will the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County.
Jones said during Friday's meeting that he is disappointed at the failure of the wheel tax referendum, which proposed an additional $20 to provide $980,000, on an annual basis, toward the county school system's budget needs.
Without at least this partial solution to the system's deficit, he supported Kirk's recommendation to delay schools and said he was putting his faith in the County Commission to take on the responsibility for raising taxes.
"[The people] are not going to take the tough decision on themselves 99 percent of the time," he said, also expressing his disappointment that only 27 percent of those registered to vote actually participated in the referendum.
In light of the referendum result, he encouraged the board to vote in support of the delay in order, he said, to avoid further disrupting the lives of students and staff.
School board members Kathy Austin and David Johnson opposed the delay, however.
Austin said that she does not feel that she, as a board member, had been informed throughout the past year of the pending budget deficit, which she said would have changed her vote on matters such as one-time bonuses and the Chuckey-Doak fieldhouse.
She maintained that she is shocked to hear the system even consider closing a school, and asked if there is a move toward consolidation.
"We say 'kids first,'" she said. "What about these kids in this community who have wondered all summer long, 'Where am I going to school?'"
"I in good conscience cannot agree to delay school to wait to see if we're going to have a property tax increase," she added.
"We should have already had a plan B in the works so the school system and the school here could flow smoothly."
Austin also said that she heard first through the community that there might be a delay to the opening of school, and she added that, as a board member, she should not have heard that information first from the community.
Jones assured Austin that closing a school or delaying the start of school is not what anyone on the board truly wanted to see happen, adding that there are no additional plans for consolidation.
"Ever since the first two months [Kirk] has been in office, we've been kept up to date and known our budget situation," Jones added.
"Dr. Kirk told the County Commission last year, and told the general public, that this day was coming that we could not meet our budget."
As for the C-DHS fieldhouse, he said that the money spent was one-time money from the fund balance that was necessary as a matter of providing basic, decent facilities for student programming and public, handicap-accessible use.
"I think that the citizens of Greene County do not realize the value that they have received, from the board, from the teachers," Johnson later replied.
He noted how West Greene's Booster Club stepped up to provide a fieldhouse and how, he said, Chuckey-Doak has suffered with an almost "third-world" facility for a time.
He said that he does not want to see a school closed, but he added that it is necessary for citizens to step up and fund the school system in order to educate citizens to lead the future of Greene County.
Johnson continued that he does not believe the system has any areas of widespread waste, although there are, he said, probably areas to improve.
"The only thing that I'm maybe a little bit discouraged about is the delay of schools," he said.
"We've got a job to do, and that's to open our schools, put a smile on our face, and educate our children. If we have to do that under-funded and change something later, so be it.
"I think we need to get on with the curriculum.
"If the County Commission deals us a fatal blow on the 13th, we'll make the necessary cuts and proceed with what we have left."
Jones replied that he appreciated Johnson's comments, but disagreed with his views concerning delaying the start of schools.
"This is not a ploy to put pressure on the commission," he said.
"We don't want to disrupt kids after they're in their classroom for a week and have to go back to make adjustments again.
"That's the part that's not fair. That's the reason we need to look at the delay," Jones added.
Board member Nathan Brown, who said earlier in the meeting that he and many other citizens are ready to step up and pay a tax increase to help schools, made the motion to delay the opening.
Rex Hopson seconded the motion and Jones called for a roll call vote.
Johnson and Austin voted against the delay.
The remaining board members, including Brown, Hopson, Kathy Crawford, Jones, and Mark Douthat, voted to approve the delay.
This was Douthat's first board meeting since his temporary appointment by the County Commission in July to fill the vacancy on the school board created by the death of former member Claude "Junior" Weems.