BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Greene County Schools are safer this fall than they were in the spring, according to reports to the Greene County Education Committee.
A number of safety capital improvements were made over the summer, from new fire alarms at Camp Creek Elementary School and an announcement system at McDonald Elementary School to braced bleachers at South Greene High School and brand-new bleachers at North Greene High School.
The list also includes roofing and downspouts at Chuckey Elementary, a safer entrance at Baileyton Elementary, new exterior doors at McDonald Elementary, a partial roof at Chuckey-Doak Middle School, and some painting.
These projects were possible from savings in last year's budget, Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk explained.
However, she said next summer's list of vital projects is already well under way and packed with major expenditures such as HVAC replacements.
This will be particularly important at West Greene High School, where the system is nearly 20 years old, Maintenance Director David Myers said.
Of the 15 cents in increased property tax revenue allocated to the school system by the Greene County County Commission, 13 cents was needed to balance the $1.19 million deficit.
The extra 2 cents had not been requested by the school board, but were added to allow for 2 percent raises for classified (non-certified) employees.
However, the 2 percent raises did not consume all of the extra 2 cents' anticipated revenue, Kirk said.
"We had some left there, which was used to reinstate some of the past cuts," she said. "We did that on a priority basis, trying to keep the money for the kids.
"Any time you get revenue, you have to budget that revenue as an expenditure. You can't have more revenue than expenditures in the budget, or vice versa. They have to match.
"Really, I think the philosophy behind that is, whatever money is allocated to the schools in a current year is meant to be spent on students in that year. You don't have to spend everything, but that's the intention of a budget."
The reinstated areas included:
* $30,000 for library books;
* $20,000 for instructional supplies; and,
* $31,000 for capital outlay.
"We had nothing in capital outlay," Kirk told the committee.
Some of this is already designated for rock for bus turnarounds, she explained.
"Sadly, probably most of the rest of that's going to go for a delivery vehicle," she added. "Right now, he's pulling a cattle trailer to deliver our copy paper."
Meanwhile, as the board waits for another summer and the end of the school year to see what funds remain, the system already has new energy-savings initiatives in place.
Kirk introduced Steve Tipton as the system's new energy savings specialist, who will oversee the Energy Savings Program and EnerNOC.
These two energy-savings programs represent efforts to save money on the high cost of electricity.
These programs do not call for new equipment or investments, but rather a focus on education and conservation, Tipton said, especially surrounding holidays and periods when children are not in school.
In addition, the programs may qualify the system for a new $30,000 grant available from the state this year, he said.
In other business, Chairman Hilton Seay introduced Ronnie Lintz, who he explained had several questions for the director of schools following the County Commission's August property tax increase.
Lintz asked Kirk to reiterate her earlier discussion of how the property tax money would be used, as well as questioning specifics on salaries, including her own.
"I'm not trying to be confrontational. I'm just trying to get some answers," he said.
"I'm not being personal with you," he later added. "Is the director's salary set by the state like the county mayor's?"
"It's set by the board," Kirk replied.
"It's set by the board. Is that public information?" he continued.
"It's been on the front page of the paper," she answered.
Kirk's salary was last reported in May, when the board renewed her contract and provided her with the same 2.5 percent raise as the state provided certified personnel, putting her salary at $99,000 annually, plus travel expenses.
"I've been told from $104,000 to $185,000," Lintz told Kirk.
"I do not make $185,000," Kirk replied with a small laugh.
"We did a study, the school board did. With comparable systems our size and across the state, she was in about the bottom third," School Board Chairman Roger Jones added.
"Based on the work that this young lady has done in the past three months, I'd demand $300,000," Commissioner Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers added. "This job that she holds is a tough job."
Seay assured Lintz that the increased property tax in support of education will be a positive to inquiring industries and "could profit more over the long haul."
Kirk agreed, saying that she is personally committed to bringing industry to Greene County so that property tax increases are not needed.
Lintz, however, noted the number of unemployed and number of people living paycheck to paycheck in Greene County.
Greene County still has the lowest property tax around, Jones noted, and there had not been an increase since 2003.
Lintz said he would be present at Monday's meeting of the Greene County Commission to ask further questions of the county.