Although some, including the media, have been referring to additional state funding for local school districts as a "windfall," it would probably be more accurate to call it a lifeline.
With the first implementation phase of BEP 2.0, Oak Ridge Schools will receive $1,966,000 additional state funding over last year. However, $997,410 of that had already been included in the FY08 budget in anticipation of growth and new at-risk funding. So, only $968,590 of the new state funding is not already included in the budget passed in April.
After additional mandatory expenses, $300,063 remains for the School Board to allocate.
The administration’s recommendation (which will be posted on the ORS website) for that money includes:
- Salary equity reclassification for secretaries: $11,310
- Changing textbook allocation to reflect actual cost: $146,668
- Changing equipment allocation to approximate actual averages: $67,085
- Creating a recurring dollars line item for furniture: $75,000
The appropriations for books, equipment, and furniture simply bring the base recurring-dollar allocations for those items up to (or close to) what they really cost, meaning we don’t have to pull from the savings account (fund balance) to pay for them next year. This decreases the likelihood that we’ll have to go to City Council, hat in hand, begging for a greater increase as has happened for the last few years.
However, the Board was advised that the Anderson County roll-out presentation by state officials included an explicit warning: these new state funds are to be used for classroom and instructional items — NOT for buildings or transportation.
"NOT for transportation." It’s almost like they knew what we had to cut from the budget last year, and that their warning was directed specifically to us. Of course, Loudon County is facing the same issue this year, so maybe we weren’t singled out, but nonetheless, it still means that if any changes are made to transportation services, the money has to be cut from some other part of the budget.
However, also in last night’s work session, cost estimates were provided for three additional transportation options, all directed to providing service within the mile radius for elementary school students. The least costly of those would provide service to designated bus stops for elementary students (not the door-to-door service that used to be provided for K-2). The operating cost of that plan is only $25,000, which seems like it could be found, but the kicker is that the Board would also have to begin setting aside an additional $200,000 annually for bus replacement beginning next year.
That’s on top of the $175,000 that we’re already going to have to allocate for bus replacement, even if none of the bus service cuts are restored.
So, providing even bus-stop service to elementary students represents a $25,000 expense this year, which becomes $225,000 beginning next year.
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The last item of discussion was in regard to citizen requests and communication. Generally, it was an effort to discern whether the Board is comfortable with the existing procedures for citizen’s requests, and the consensus appears to be that we are. Absolutely, reasonable questions should be answered. And they are.
It was also patently obvious that when answers are provided that do not suit the motives of the person asking, the tactic du jour is to complain and cast dispersion.upon board members and staff for being unresponsive. I’m sure the discussion was confusing to most people, but I hope that at least a few Oak Ridgers understood the message.