By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Shoring up an expected shortfall in the county schools’ budget for the upcoming year was the focus of the Education Oversight Committee during last Thursday’s meeting.

Because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on Trousdale County’s part, the state has started providing less funding through the BEP (Basic Education Plan). In the current 2018-19 fiscal year, state funding dropped by just over $303,000.

According to Director of Schools Clint Satterfield, another similar cut is expected for the upcoming year with an additional $150,000 cut for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“They’re saying, ‘You’ve got a significant amount of revenue somewhere in your county that came in.’ We know what it was; it was the prison,” Satterfield said. “Since your ability to pay has become greater, then the BEP is going to give you less.”

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison pays over $1.5 million each year in property tax to Trousdale County. Chairman Jerry Ford pointed out that much of that money had been spent in raises for county employees and other recurring expenses.

“That’s why we’re in the position we’re in now,” Ford said. “If we had just saved some of that money.”

“No one is to blame; we’ve never had anything like this happen before,” added Johnny Kerr, a current School Board member and former county commissioner. “Fiscal capacity is a compliment to us because we’ve actually got a major industry in here… Based on the information we had at that time, we spent the way the majority approved.”

Satterfield said the state was supposed to provide a preliminary estimate of BEP funding for the upcoming year this week. That estimate had not been made available at press time.

The County Commission has over the years gone above what the state requires in terms of funding schools beyond the BEP. In 2017-18, the county funded $582,129 above state BEP funding. For 2018-19, that funding excess was reduced to $278,628.

If the county loses another $303,000 in the upcoming year, it could force some difficult decisions.

In Trousdale County, the BEP funds 85.52 teacher positions. Currently, there are 87.5 teachers in the system. BEP also funds 0.5 assistant principal positions – each school has an assistant currently. BEP also does not fund any extracurricular activities.

In a worst-case scenario without making up some of the lost BEP funding, items such as community use of facilities, school athletics and teaching positions could be cut.

Satterfield also addressed upcoming capital outlay needs, including roof work on the elementary and middle schools, the high school parking lot and a new bus route on the western end of the county where population growth is at its highest.

The school system does have a healthy fund balance, estimated at $5 million as of Dec. 31. However much of that money is restricted for certain uses and actual available cash was around $2.1 million, according to Satterfield. The school system is already going into fund balance this year for some expenses and the budget estimates an available cash balance of $1.1 million come June 30.

“Fund balance is not for reoccurring expenses like salaries and benefits; you can use it for one-time expenditures,” Satterfield said.

Commissioners discussed potential options for finding revenue for the schools. Options tossed out included increasing the local option sales tax, which would require a referendum, adjusting impact fees from new construction in the county and removing the discount for early payment of property tax.

“We’ve done an excellent job over time of extending the quality of our schools,” Satterfield said. “I hear from county commissioners about how many people are moving into our county, and a lot of them are moving in because of the quality of our schools.

“We’re going to have to have some relief to keep this momentum going.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.