BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
For at least another year, the guillotine that hung suspended over Glenwood Elementary School this summer has been lifted, according to Greene County Board of Education Chairman Roger Jones.
The board met in a called session at 5 p.m. Monday following a morning meeting of the Greene County Commission.
While the board will wait for final revenue numbers from Greene County Budget Director Mary Shelton before finalizing the 2012-2013 budget, Jones promised that the board will not enact any of the previously-publicized possible cuts in the coming year.
"It's a good day!" Jones said, saying that the votes were "in support of the future of Greene County. They voted today to put their faith into you [the teachers in the audience], that we're going to raise the bar for education in our community."
A full audience of mostly teachers, parents and members of the Glenwood community cheered and applauded the announcement that the system would continue with the same number of schools as last year.
"The buses will be running the same routes, and Glenwood will be there with all smiles on Wednesday morning," he said.
This decision followed the 20-cent tax increase approved earlier Monday by the Greene County Commission.
Fifteen cents of the increase will cover the system's $1.18 million deficit and provide a 2 percent raise to non-certified employees as well as to other county employees except certified education employees (teachers, principals) who were already scheduled for a 2.5 percent raise.
"My first response was relief," Kirk said in an interview following the board meeting concerning her reaction to the County Commission's vote. "I didn't realize what a burden it was until it was lifted off."
Immediately following the relief came gratitude, she added, expressing her appreciation for those who took time to try to understand the issues and those who had "courage to take a stand" for education.
Jones expressed his appreciation during the board meeting, asking those commissioners present to stand and listing the names of all those commissioners who voted in favor of the property tax increase.
In other business, the board held a special moment of silence in honor of Commissioner Brenda Grogan, a retired teacher who died Aug. 6 following a recent illness.
The board also heard from David Cunningham, of Midway, concerning expenditures including computer upgrades, employee health insurance, and transportation costs.
Kirk said that there is no money budgeted for computer upgrades, only $15,000 for computer repairs.
The system does what upgrades are possible and needed at the end of the year with any remaining funds, she added.
As for employee health insurance, she said that those on the individual health plan, the lowest cost bracket, are covered completely by the county. Those with family plans, however, share the cost.
Jones and school board member David Johnson also addressed Cunningham's questions concerning transportation, saying that they have looked into contracting the buses with a local company to save money, but that none had shown interest in light of the number of miles.
At the close of the meeting, Johnson called on Cunningham again at his request to speak, during which time Cunningham praised Kirk and the board, saying, "I think you all have done a tremendous job given what you have been presented with."
AUSTIN READS LETTER
Board member Kathy Austin also took the opportunity to address her fellow members by reading what she said was a Letter to the Editor she had submitted to The Greeneville Sun last week that was not able to make it into the paper before Monday due to technical difficulties.
In the letter, Austin called for better communication concerning the budget, expressing again her feelings that the board was not properly informed of the coming deficit when voting on projects such as the Chuckey-Doak High School fieldhouse and West Greene High School fieldhouse.
"I know it would have affected how I would have voted on the [C-DHS] fieldhouse," she explained, saying that she would have chosen keeping Glenwood open for another year over building the facility.
"It doesn't matter that it would have taken one-time funds to do that," she said. "It would have given the board and the community time to work on plans to keep all of our schools open."
Austin also recalled the overrun on the West Greene freshman academy project, in addition to other areas she felt had not been properly addressed and budgeted.
She addressed further concerns that the system was considering consolidation and referred to threatening to close Glenwood as "emotional blackmail."
A tax increase, even if "just $20," she said, could make the difference between a child eating lunch or a senior citizen being able to fill their complete prescription.
The budget has grown by over $10 million in the 10 years Austin said she has served with the board. She recalled that much of the increase in this past year came from the raises for both certified and classified employees that the board implemented last year.
Many of the county commissioners warned the board to not implement the raises at that time, Austin said, because the 2011-2012 school budget was balanced using one-time federal Jobs Bill money, a fact that Kirk had made clear.
In addition to such raises these past two years, Austin also noted the high cost of the retirement bonuses, which she said will be at nearly $390,000 this year alone.
WANTS TO HIRE CPA
In response to these concerns, she requested that the board consider hiring a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to offer advice on all future financial matters and to oversee the system's $45 million budget.
Currently, the board has a non-CPA budget director who works at Central Office with Kirk to coordinate such matters.
Austin explained later that she meant that the CPA should assist, not replace, the person who is currently coordinating financial matters.
"Everything's going very positive and in a positive direction," Jones replied.
"A lot of the things that were addressed by Ms. Austin we'll be looking at and addressing as we go through this year, no doubt," he said in reference to his request earlier in the meeting that the board begin holding once-a-month budget workshops.
He added that he also felt the board was "well-informed" and "well aware of what was happening."
The board will meet again in another called session at 5 p.m., Monday.
Board member David Johnson requested the scheduling change from Thursday so that his schedule will allow him to be in attendance at his last school board meeting.
Tommy Cobble will replace Johnson, who did not run for re-election in the Aug. 2 County General Election.