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Sullivan Commission OKs school funding compromise, awaits action by BOE

J. H. Osborne • Oct 2, 2019 at 9:07 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — In a called meeting Wednesday, with state officials participating via Skype, the Sullivan County Commission approved a potential solution to its financial disagreement with the Sullivan County Board of Education.

That puts the ball in the latter’s court. The BOE is scheduled to meet Thursday night. If the BOE fails to approve the compromise, it could mean the state will withhold millions in funding from the school system later this month.

Background

State officials have threatened to withhold funding because the county school system’s budget, as calculated by school officials, did not meet maintenance of effort requirements. But county officials have argued the school system’s budget numbers were based on underestimated local tax revenue and a much higher drop in attendance than historical data shows.

The school system based its budget on a projected 2 percent decline in (weighted full-time) average daily attendance compared to last year. The system hasn’t lost that many students in a single year for decades. But school officials have said that to date this school year the loss has exceeded that level.

The school system also developed its budget by using its last year’s projected local tax revenue as a starting point for cutting out the 2 percent — rather than its actual local tax revenue, which county officials say came in $1.6 million higher that budgeted.

The county had approved a budget that cut $800,000 from what had for a couple of years been a $1.1 million annual appropriation to the schools, intended to reimburse the system for non-school use of school facilities by community groups. That figure had been $300,000 in prior years. The $800,000 is close to the amount of local tax revenue equal to 1 percent of average daily attendance. The county had attempted to persuade the school system to cut its 2 percent projected drop to 1 percent.

The compromise

The compromise, sponsored by Mark Vance and Dwight King, with primary co-sponsors Angie Stanley and Hunter Locke, puts $800,000 back into the school system’s budget — but only as a contingency to be used if two things come true: the school system sees an actual drop in average daily attendance of more than 1 percent and the school system’s local tax revenues really come in as low as the school system projected.

State officials

The actual wording of the resolution describing the compromise was created by representatives of the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Education. The original resolution as presented on the commission floor said only that the money would be set aside and paid to the school system (on a pro-rated basis) if the average daily attendance dropped. The group of state officials, participating live online via Skype, said the resolution was definitely a “viable” basis for a solution to the issue at hand. And then they provided a suggested revision of the wording. That revision made clear the contingency was twofold and included not only a drop in average daily attendance but also the lesser local tax revenue.

Deputy Comptroller Jason Mumpower moderated the meeting of the group of state officials and spoke the most to the county commission during the exchange. Mumpower said the revised wording was worked out by representatives from both the comptroller’s office and the Tennessee Department of Education.

The first thing Mumpower told commissioners: before the night’s end, they needed to turn “this Sullivan County standoff” into a “Sullivan County standdown.”  Mumpower said as a Sullivan County resident himself, he knew everyone involved and knew they all had the county’s residents’ best interest at heart.

The vote

The commission overwhelmingly voted in favor of the compromise: 19 “yes,” two “abstain” (Sam Jones and Alicia Starnes), and three absent (David Akard, Michael Cole, and Mark Hutton). 

Next

Mumpower and the others in Nashville said for the commission’s action to make a difference will require quick action by the Sullivan County Board of Education to amend its budget and update it in the state’s computer system with all the necessary signatures attached. 

 

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