Sullivan County Commission will decide fate of school budget request

J. H. Osborne • Jun 18, 2020 at 1:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school system officials met with the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee on Wednesday and provided answers to a list of questions, as requested. Discussion lasted more than two hours, but did not end with a vote by the committee.

Much of the discussion was straightforward. The system’s charted answer to one question, however, resulted in confusion.

The committee’s members ultimately agreed the full commission will have the final say on the school system’s $86.5 million funding request for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The panel tentatively scheduled its next meeting for June 24 at 3 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

The county’s top finance officer said he will likely be able to present revenue projections for the year ahead once he receives the latest monthly sales tax revenue figures from the state, which he thinks might happen within the next couple of days. 

The chart

The chart that caused confusion during the school system’s presentation was meant to answer the question “How many staff members were assigned to the 3 middle schools before they were consolidated and how many are assigned to the new school? Please detail this by showing the number of positions before and after consolidation — teachers, principals including assistants, librarians, cafeteria workers, janitorial, SRO, etc.”

Even after lengthy discussion, multiple questions from various commissioners, attempted explanations by school officials, and an attempted interpretation by Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, what the numbers on the chart meant remained unclear. The main sticking point seemed to be whether the column representing staff at Mary Hughes School represented current numbers or the numbers for the school prior to its middle school grades being combined with the new Sullivan East Middle School population.

Here are a few questions and answers that were less complicated:


Q. “Enrollment is down, three middle schools have been consolidated, two buildings have been closed, and the appropriations request has increased with more teachers. Please explain.”

A. “Teacher staffing follows students, regardless of the number of buildings in which they are served. There is not an absolute straight line correlation between an overall reduction in student enrollment and an overall reduction in staffing. Similarly, with a reduction in the overall population of our county, the number of public safety employees does not usually decrease. Staffing requirements are driven by program needs. We have a net increase of 3 positions FY 20 to FY 21, to include a special education pre-K which was driven by enrollment, one health science position, driven by course demand, and one related arts position to provide program parity in the elementary program.”

(“FY” stands for fiscal year, and fiscal years are often designated by the year in which they end.)

Q. “How many teaching positions were in the FY 2020 budget?”

A. “681.”

Q. “How many teaching positions are in the FY 2021 proposed budget?”

A. “684.”

Q. “What happened to the school resource officer position at Weaver (Elementary School) when it closed?”

A. “When Weaver closed there were no full time SRO’s in middle or elementary schools. Additionally, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office assigns officers to school buildings not Sullivan County Department of Education.”

The school system’s longer answers to several questions on other topics will be included in a future article in the Times News.




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