By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Members of the Education Oversight Committee gave preliminary support to the school system’s proposed budget at their May 14 meeting, but also warned that funding will be a concern.

The budget, which was approved by the School Board at its April meeting and was presented by Director of Schools Clint Satterfield, calls for just over $900,000 in new money from the county. The school system will lose roughly $429,000 in funding under the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on Trousdale County’s part.

Long-term solutions need to be found, committee members said, rather than relying on property tax. Filling the projected deficit would require 46.5 cents of property tax based on current values.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

“I’d like for the Budget & Finance (Committee) to find ways to address this revenue source without it all coming from property tax,” said commissioner Bill Fergusson. “We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve had in the school system.”

Ideas tossed about included extending the Urban Services District, adding a half-cent to the local option sales tax, redirecting impact fees paid to the county or extending the wheel tax.

A local option sales tax increase would require a public referendum, which likely would not take place until August 2020. The wheel tax is currently set to expire in 2022 after the loan for the high school building is paid off.

County commissioners discussed extending the wheel tax last year but ultimately decided to take no action.

“The good thing about the wheel tax is it affects everyone in the county,” said committee chairman Jerry Ford. “The problem with raising property tax is just 38 percent of the people pay it.”

Satterfield agreed, saying, “What’s important is that we find long-term solutions tot this… we can’t wait to say ‘Will conditions ever change?’ ”

The budget does call for a percent raise for teachers, which will come from BEP funding. The state is giving 3 percent among the 84.5 teachers funded through BEP. However, Trousdale County Schools divides that money equally among all teachers (87.5 currently), so actual raises will be slightly under 3 percent.

The budget also calls for $462,890 in capital outlay projects, which would come from the schools’ fund balance.

“We’ve always been able to use our fund balance to upgrade our facilities and do one-time expenses and we’ve never had to come to the County Commission to ask for money for capital outlays since I’ve been superintendent,” Satterfield said.

The school budget calls for the system to finish the 2010 fiscal year with roughly $2.3 million remaining in fund balance. Without additional funds, that balance would drop to roughly $1.4 million.

“There’s no way the school system can continue to operate with a deficit of this magnitude without some help from the county,” said committee member Johnny Kerr, who sits on the School Board. “No one’s thinking about kicking this can down the road another year; we need some help.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or [email protected]