by Mel Griffith
Recently there has been a lot of publicity about school funding in Bradley County. Much of the controversy revolves around the use of "growth money." That is extra money coming in each year as a result of growth in the tax base due to increased value of property in Bradley County. Some claim it is being "taken away" from the school system. One school board member said that the commission should be ashamed of being prudent stewards of the taxpayers money instead of throwing it around like drunken sailors. Another board member announced that the commission should be fired for daring to disagree with him. That attitude could strike some folks as a mite arrogant.
Perhaps some actual facts would be helpful to the debate:
Nothing is being "taken away" from the school system. The discussion is about how much extra money it gets, not about cutting what it has been getting. The state "maintenance of effort" law requires that the school system get at least as much money as it got last year. The commission couldn't cut the school system budget if it wanted to. It's against state law.
None of the increase in school funds is being diverted to other uses. Money being placed in a Capital Reserve fund are being set aside for future building needs of the school system rather than being spent now. Since the school board agrees that more space will be needed in the future, and have appointed a committee to find a site for a new school, it is difficult to see why they object to the commission making preparations for future school building projects.
The school system will get a substantial increase in state funds next year. State funding is based on student enrollment the previous year. Since there was a substantial increase in enrollment this year, more state funds will be coming to the school system next year, though one might get the impression from listening to some school officials that the only possible way to cover increased costs is with increased county funds.
The whole argument is over less than 1% of the total school budget. One might get the impression from the hysterical response of some school officials that their budget was being cut in half, but the amount in question is actually quite small. Saving 1% of income for future needs doesn't seem unreasonable.
The much talked about ranking of school systems based on expenses per pupil does not include the large bond payments Bradley County makes each year to repay money borrowed to build school buildings. This is also a cost of education to the taxpayers. Those who spend everything they get every year and ignore the future can look good in the rankings. Those who think ahead and prepare for the next 50 years by building good buildings and keeping them up to date get no credit for it in the rankings. The rankings reward shortsighted management and ignore responsible preparations for the future. The rankings that count are test scores.