The Finance Committee of the Bradley County Commission took an unusual step Monday when it referred an amendment to the Bradley County Schools 2013-14 budget to the Commission’s Education Committee for further review.
It came on the day County Commission was to have heard a full budget presentation from the system, but a letter from Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel explained the school board had been presented “a balanced budget.”
“As of today, the board has not yet approved the budget; therefore, I have no budget for presentation to the Commission,” McDaniel’s letter states.
McDaniel did offer to attend Monday’s meeting, but Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis responded to McDaniel that “there was no need.”
What makes the amendment referral move so unusual is amendments such as these are fairly routine — especially toward the end of a budget year — and are usually passed without much dissent or discussion.
The amendment shows an increase of $40,000 in E-Rate funding revenues, which provide discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.
An increase of $40,000 in technology is also listed in the amendment.
There were decreases of $80,000 for regular instruction textbooks, $60,000 for operation of plant-electricity/natural gas and $50,000 in student support services from an SLC (Smaller Learning Communities) grant.
A decrease of $140,000 in local sales tax revenue for the current fiscal year is also noted.
However, it was the decrease in textbooks and student support services that drew commissioners’ questions when there was also an increase for instructional staff support services of $50,000 also related to the SLC grant.
“I’ve talked with two school board members and [was told] this was on their consent agenda at the last school board meeting, and they had not seen it prior to that meeting,” said Committee Chairman Ed Elkins. “They really didn’t know what the details were in here, but they passed it and moved on.”
Elkins said the increase in “staff support services” and the decrease in “student support services” held his main question.
Fourth District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe, said since it was grant funding, the system would have to be in compliance with the grant stipulations.
“They said they have federal approval to do this,” Elkins said.
Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock said he wondered how the numbers translate “for the reduction for student support services and the increase for staff support services.”
“I just wonder what that really means,” Morelock said.
Lowe said the student support would include items outside of instruction such as rebuilding wheelchair ramps or visual aids, and the staff support would be more specific to curriculum-based items.
“We’re saying that’s what we think, but we really don’t know,” Morelock said.
Lowe said it appears there has been instructional staff already hired, but because of the decrease in revenues the system is moving that support cost to the grant.
“They were probably funding these positions out of what they were expecting in revenues from the sales tax, and now they want to apply those services to the grant,” Lowe said. “If the grantee says that’s OK, that’s the prerogative of the grantee.”
Elkins reiterated there were school board members who did not know.
Morelock made the motion to send the matter to the Education Committee, of which Lowe is the chairman, to get more information. The motion passed unanimously.
“From what I am hearing, we’ll probably get the answer back on that by the time [the school board] approves the budget,” Elkins said.
The full Commission will meet again Tuesday, May 27 for a work session at 7 p.m.
It is being held a day later than normal because of Monday’s Memorial Day holiday.