​Sewanee Loses Pre-K; County Schools’ Budget “Sobering”

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
“In the hour and a half before this meeting I received a dozen emails, four phone calls and four texts,” said Franklin County School Board Representative Adam Tucker. His constituents were concerned about Sewanee Elementary School losing Pre-K funding. The state level announcement went public before the May 13 meeting of the school board.
“We lost a Pre-K program last year due to the same issue,” said Assistant Superintendent Linda Foster. “We lost the funding because such a low percentage of students are income eligible.”
The Sewanee Pre-K program received 18 applications, but only 12 from within Franklin County. Of those 12, only two are from income eligible families, families whose incomes fall below the state designated threshold.
State funding hinges on 90 percent of the students being income eligible, said County Deputy Finance Director Cindy Latham.
“Last year we had to put $100,000 into the program just to exist,” Foster said.
“It used to be the state funding provided for furniture, curriculum, and supplies,” said board member Sara Liechty, “but not anymore.”
Updating the board on revisions to the proposed 2019-20 budget, Foster noted the draw on the reserve fund balance would increase by more $300,000, leaving only $2,166,917 in the reserve account. The county school will end the 2018-19 year with a fund balance of $4,622,506, but the proposed budget would require spending more than half the amount.
“That’s very sobering,” Foster said.
The budget revisions included 2 percent raises for support employees and 1.5 percent for bus drivers. Certified employees will not receive salary increases, only step increases based on years of service. By the revised salary schedule, teachers employed one to five years will receive a 1 percent increase. From six to 25 years, teachers will receive salary increases ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent, with the salary increasing as years of service increase.
The county still has not received information on the increase in funding promised by Governor Bill Lee, Foster said. The Franklin County Commission wants the schools’ budget by June 1.
“I don’t think we can make a decision now,” said Board Chair Cleijo Walker.
Turning to complaints of reckless driving directed against a school bus driver, the board voted to terminate the driver’s contract.
Franklin County Schools Transportation Supervisor Mark Montoye received six calls about the driver. As the result of a Chattanooga school bus accident caused by reckless driving, beginning in 2017 state law required school bus bumpers’ to display the phone number of the school system’s transportation director, Montoye explained. Two of the calls came in after the driver was issued a warning. The two recent calls were for running a red light and pulling out in front of another vehicle.
A substitute driver using a county bus will cover the route of the terminated driver until a new driver is hired.
At the close of the meeting, Tucker announced the June 6 school board meeting would be his last meeting as a school board member. Tucker serves as city attorney for Murfreesboro and his new contract requires he move his primary residence to Rutherford County.
“It is with a heavy heart I make this decision,” Tucker said.
A replacement will be appointed to finish out Tucker’s term.