Burchett wants conversation on GRAD, magnets, G/T

Sandra ClarkFeature, Gossip and Lies

This is an update on this morning’s column about the Knox County budget

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett wants countywide discussion about spending cuts proposed by the school board before those reductions are implemented.

In the FY 2019 budget presented this morning, Burchett offered some $650,000 as one-time, half-funding to fully fund Project GRAD, magnet programs at Green and Sarah Moore Greene elementary schools in East Knoxville, and 20 teaching positions for the gifted/talented program across Knox County. The school board must match the $650,000 and develop a review/evaluation plan if it accepts this grant.

The money would be taken from anticipated year-end surplus before it’s converted to fund balance, county officials said, and Knox County Schools could fund its share this way as well.

Burchett said he’s got no way to evaluate the programs, but after an outcry of public support, he thinks a one-month conversation is not long enough. So now it’s back to the school board, assuming county commission OK’s Burchett’s budget (Note: it always does).

Burchett proposes a one-step plus two percent raise for general county employees and a three-step plus two percent raise for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office. A step increase is approximately one percent. Eligible school system employees will get a step increase as well, but about 22 percent of the county’s 3,870 teachers have “topped out,” according to Superintendent Bob Thomas.

The budget adopted by the school board includes an increase of $4.3 million for the employer’s share of health insurance, but no overall raise. Board member Lynne Fugate’s effort to ask for a two percent raise was defeated with support only from Fugate, Gloria Deathridge and Jennifer Owen.

Schaad Road: Burchett’s budget contains $13 million for capital improvements for Engineering & Public Works, of which $4 million goes toward work underway on Schaad Road and another $1.3 million is for preliminary design work for phase four. When completed, Schaad will connect Clinton Highway with Lovell Road. Officials said funding should be complete in 2021.

Expect ‘found money’ to fund school programs

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will present his final budget proposal (FY 2019) to Knox County Commission at 9 a.m. today (5/7) in the main assembly room of the City County Building. It will be livestreamed at www.ctvknox.org/.

Burchett will then deliver his message 12 times over three days at various community sites. Info here.

The schedule has him in Halls, Corryton, Carter and Burlington on Monday; Powell, Karns, West Knox and Cedar Bluff on Tuesday; and Fountain City, South Knox, Bearden and Farragut on Wednesday.

Burchett met individually with county commissioners last week to preview his budget and get input on district needs. Austerity is the buzzword, as Burchett has crafted seven previous budgets without a property tax increase. Don’t expect an increase this year either.

The mayor will miss his ambitious goal of reducing the county’s debt by $100 million in eight years. The reduction will be closer to $50 million – still nothing to sneeze at – and Burchett will have opened five new schools: L&N STEM Academy, Career Magnet Academy, Carter Elementary, Gibbs Middle and Hardin Valley Middle.

Knox County Schools funding has increased by approximately $105 million (28 percent), over Burchett’s eight years, according to spokesperson Michael Grider, who says, “That is huge.” Yet school board members say the system’s funding has declined as a percent of the overall county budget, and this year Superintendent Bob Thomas recommended several cuts to stay within anticipated revenue.

Last Thursday, Commissioner Brad Anders hinted that he may try to fully fund recent cuts in the magnet programs, the gifted/talented program countywide and Project GRAD. Commission chair Randy Smith convened a workshop with school officials. Under questioning from Anders, Thomas said $1.3 million would restore 20 positions for gifted/talented, leave the magnet programs intact at Green Magnet Academy and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy, and fund Project GRAD at this year’s level.

Thomas said KCS has $7.5 to $8 million in its fund balance over the state requirement. Burchett had asked KCS to build its reserves to one month’s operating expenses, but Anders implied that perhaps the shortfall could be restored from the system’s fund balance.

It’s unlikely that Burchett will wait on County Commission to restore the cuts. There’s a good chance he will have found the needed funds and will announce it today. Stay tuned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *