Knox County pols say they won’t raise taxes or pull from the reserve funds to make up the difference.
Talks begin today at a 2 p.m. work session. Tomorrow, commission and the school board meet to talk about the biggest county budget expense: schools.
It doesn’t seem like sides will budge on their demands. Schools say they want their full funding request. Knox County Commissioners, a majority of them, don’t appear ready to give out more money. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett reflects that perspective – his budget reflects natural growth, which isn’t much. And then there’s the $3 million cut announced this past week.
Burchett’s office said that the $3 million BEP cut would just be taken out of the bottom line for the schools. They would have to figure out how to make the cuts.
Let’s count some votes in support of Burchett’s budget, shall we?
Knox County commissioner Tony Norman and Mike Brown have been harsh critics of the schools. Both have said they would not vote for a budget increase beyond natural growth for tax revenue. Based on observation, neither seem to believe that the schools’ administrative expense, nor the cost for teacher coaches, are reasonable expenses. And both have sharp words for testing and evaluation policies in Knox County Schools. That’s to say that if they were able to cut the schools budget, it would likely be those areas.
But commission merely sets the funding levels. The school board approves its own budget. (We’re at two Commission votes needed for passing a no-tax, no-extra-from-fund-balance budget, by the way.)
Knox County Board of Education Chairwoman Lynne Fugate has said that the cuts would most likely be felt in teacher salaries or positions in the school system.
She, along with commission Democrats Amy Broyles and Sam McKenzie have said they hope that the commission and school board are open-minded in their discussions with each other. A question here is whether school board will be open-minded in what they would like to cut from the budget?
When 85 percent of KCS expense is on people – as Fugate has said – then the cuts would likely be in that area in some way.
Both Broyles and McKenzie would be expected to make a case for funding some or all of the schools funding request, and would likely split from their Republican colleagues on commission in voting.
Meanwhile, Ed Shouse has said he wouldn’t vote for a tax increase or pulling from the county’s fund balance. He’s running the Republican race for county trustee, by the way. Also running for office is Richard Briggs – the Republican primary against Tenn. Sen. Stacey Campfield. A Briggs vote for more taxes or fund balance spending would be unlikely, too. (We’re at four votes for the propsed county budget.)
Outgoing commissioner R. Larry Smith is another critic of schools’administration, along with Jeff Ownby, which – with a little, but reasonable, leap of logic – puts us at six votes for the Knox County budget that includes the BEP shortfall for schools. There’s your majority vote for a no tax increase, no extra spending Knox County budget.
Now, there could be some wiggle room here, but it looks doubtful. And I’m not saying there are question marks by the names of Chairman Brad Anders, or commissioners Dave Wright and Mike Hammond (all Republicans, too). We’re just counting the apparent sure-thing votes for the county budget here.