Proposed schools budget tops half-billion dollars

Sandra ClarkOur Town Youth

Knox County Schools wants an increase of $21,584,000 or 4.4 percent over its current budget, according to a press release from Superintendent Bob Thomas’s office. That would make the total budget $506,652,000 for roughly 60,000 students (about $8,400 per child).

Expect considerable tweaking before a final budget is in place. The school board will review the request, Mayor Glenn Jacobs will make a recommendation and Knox County Commission must approve the final budget amount. Then the school board will allocate the money among departments.

Highlights include (per the release):

• Increasing teacher and staff compensation ($16.1 million) – The district has made it a priority to improve compensation for teachers, support personnel and staff. This budget includes an amount equivalent to a 3.5 percent base salary increase for certified and classified staff, as well as eligible step increases. The proposed increase would be the largest given in more than a decade.

• Providing resources for academically at-risk schools and literacy support ($4.6 million) – The district has made a continued commitment to support initiatives that help prepare students for success. This budget includes instructional support for literacy, a college- and career-readiness assessment plan and extended school days or additional professional development for academically at-risk schools.

• Staff additions for critical student needs ($5.2 million) – The district has made a pledge to eliminate disparities in academic and discipline outcomes. To accommodate a student population that is more diverse and more at-risk, this budget provides additional English-language learners (ELL) and special-education teachers, as well as school nurses, to better serve their needs.

• Budgetary savings ($3.3 million) – The district has made an effort to be fiscally responsible. This budget identifies several opportunities for cost savings through departmental budget reductions and efficiencies, utilizing established district staffing ratios, and an early retirement incentive, including three central office supervisory positions.

Additionally, the district’s proposed five-year capital budget addresses several capital priorities including a new elementary school for Adrian Burnett Elementary, a new elementary school for Lonsdale Elementary and a new elementary school in Northwest Knox County.

While the state’s initial BEP estimate represents less of an increase than in prior years, the district is expected to benefit from favorable sales tax revenue trends and no increase to health insurance premiums. This has helped to offset some of the budgetary pressures in FY20.

“We have worked to develop a thoughtful and balanced budget that includes key investments aligned with the district’s goals and objectives and represents the type of strong fiscal management that is expected of us as referenced in our Strategic Plan,” Thomas said. “We believe this budget builds on our commitment to provide the best educational opportunities possible for all students.”

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