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December 13, 2002

Budget issues occupy Jeff School Board

From: Morristown Citizen Tribune, TN - 13 Dec 2002

By: ANN LLOYD, Tribune staff writer December 13, 2002
Projected sales tax revenues are off by $158,000 for this school year, putting the squeeze on the Jefferson County School's budget. School commissioners heard the bad news Thursday night at their meeting held in Jefferson City Middle School. Director Doug Moody said the situation "is something we have no control over."

The budget was constructed with a projected 3.5 percent increase over last year's total sales tax revenue, some $4-million.

Moody said there is enough cash in the county fund balance to cover the possible shortfall. But stressed local sales tax monies are "a critical factor" in funding public schools.

The board voted to hire two special education deaf interpreters, but first had to amend the salary caps for the positions. Currently, the school system offers $8.50 per hour to qualified deaf interpreters. That amount was raised to $13 per hour.

Two students, one in high school and another in elementary school require interpreters. All school systems are mandated by the federal government to provide full-time interpreters for deaf children.

Much of the school board meeting was taken up with discussion over a new proposed life insurance program. Two representatives from Unum-Provident Company explained the changes in coverage.

The life and disability insurance giant offered an expanded choice of coverage for school employees and their families.

Also touted was the "portability" of policies, meaning employees could opt to carry the policies even after leaving the school system.

Unum-Provident suggested there might be up to $9,000 a year in premium savings with the new plan.

The board unanimously approved the switch in policies. It will go into effect March 1.

In other business, the state offered a six-month, 2 percent pay increase for teachers. The board voted to accept the money, which will be distributed in lump sum payments in January.

No action was taken on the early retirement incentive program. The board must vote to discontinue it or the program stays in place. Currently, teachers with 30 years experience or who are 65 years old may qualify for a $10,500 incentive payment. Ten teachers will be eligible for the program at the end of the school year. Moody reported only one was interested, at this time, in accepting early retirement.

Jim White of Strawberry Plains, made a plea to purchase a lot belonging to the school board. White leads a new non-profit organization called Parting the Waters that offers family and children's services.

The lot, near Rush Strong School on Old Dandridge Pike is the site of the old Rolling Hills Community School. White said the building is in a condition of disrepair "only a strong wind or two away from collapse."

Board members were unaware the school system owned the property of less than one acre. A committee was formed to research the situation.

Also addressing the board were two Jefferson County High seniors Alex Clamon, Student Council President and Andy Chrisman. The two requested student representation on the school board after discussing the issue with the entire student council.

"It's a good way to get students involved who are interested in government and policy. Most importantly, it would be an asset to the school board because they'll be able to speak directly to a student that goes to school there day in and day out," said Clamon.

The board agreed to consider the proposal, and chair, Lana Lickie, emphasized that any student representative would be a non-voting member. She said student involvement in the school board would not be likely before September.

©Citizen Tribune 2002