​Updates on New Middle Schools, the 2019-20 Budget Deficit

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
“We’re making good progress,” said construction manager Gary Clardy, updating the Franklin County School Board on progress in the construction of the new middle schools at the June 10 meeting. The optimistic news contrasted the anxiety expressed by the board about the $2.28 million draw on the school system’s reserve fund balance to keep the schools operating next year. Director of Schools Stanley Bean called the situation, “Sad.”
Clardy said the pads for the new construction were 95 percent complete. He noted “asbestos abatement” has to be done at both schools due to discovery of asbestos on the gym ductwork. According to Clardy, there are sufficient funds in the contracts to cover the $3,500 cost, explaining there was some money set aside for unanticipated expenses. “We should be very successful in keeping the project in budget.” The schools are expected to be student-ready by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Urging board members to attend the upcoming county finance committee meeting, Bean said, “I’m fairly certain our budget will pass,” but added, “I don’t think the county commission realizes how dire it is. We can’t keep drawing down the fund balance.”
At the June 4 meeting, the finance committee refused the board’s request for $226,784 to cover one-third of the cost of pay raises, 1.5 percent for contract bus drivers, 2 percent for support employees, and an average 2 percent for certified employees based on years of service and degree advancement salary increases.
At a special called meeting June 6, the board voted to fund the pay raises by cutting funds designated for technology, elementary and secondary curriculum, and the long-overdue improvements to the Franklin County High School auditorium PA system.
To keep the schools operating, the 2019-20 budget will draw nearly $2.28 million from the reserve fund balance, leaving only $2.3 million in the account. State law requires the Franklin County Schools keep 3 percent of its budget in the fund balance account. A similar draw next year will drop the account to nearly zero. The board would need to authorize a $1.38 million reduction in educational service to meet the state requirement.
“The only place we can get more money is property taxes,” Bean said. He cited statistics demonstrating the schools’ percent of the property tax revenue divided among county departments had steadily decreased over the past seven years.
Board member Sara Liechty bemoaned the loss of Sewanee’s Pre-K program due to lack of funds. “Pre-K has been our one avenue to make a difference in how children do in second and third grade,” Liechty stressed.
“When people go to work at Nissan, they look at which county has the best schools to decide where to live,” board member Chris Guess said, pointing out failure to fund the schools ultimately resulted in less property tax revenue for the county.
Addressing regular business, Bean announced the decision to switch from six weeks to nine weeks grading periods at all schools. Huntland School and FCHS already have nine weeks grading periods. Bean said he consulted school principals who favored the change.
“Nine-weeks grading periods result in more instructional time since teachers spend less time on testing and end-of-period progress reports,” Bean said.
The board thanked Adam Tucker for his service on the board. Tucker turned in his resignation, citing occupational commitments as city attorney for Murfreesboro requiring him to move his primary residence to Rutherford County.
“We hate to see him go,” said board Vice-Chair Lance Williams.