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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

A public meeting will be held next week to provide information on changes to state funding of education and how Trousdale County is being affected.

On Monday, Dec. 3, members of the County Commission will meet with a representative from CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) at 6 p.m. at the Hartsville Community Center. Members of the public are also invited to attend the meeting.

CTAS rep Wesley Roberson will discuss changes to the state’s BEP (Basic Education Program) formula, which determines how much state funding is provided to counties for education.

Graphic courtesy of Tennessee Comptroller’s Office

“When we were building the 2018-19 budget, our first estimates had BEP numbers about $250,000 off,” said Director of Schools Clint Satterfield. “We were seeing a significant loss in revenue.”

In 2017-18, the state provided an estimated $7,738,000 in BEP funding, according to the school system’s budget. For 2018-19, that number fell to $7,487,000 – a drop of $251,000.

Satterfield cited increased fiscal capacity in Trousdale County as the biggest reason for the decline in state funding. Fiscal capacity is defined as an estimate of a county’s ability to raise revenue. As a county’s ability to raise money increases, the level of state BEP funding decreases under the formula.

In Trousdale County’s case, the addition of CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison and the roughly $1.5 million in annual tax revenue greatly increased the fiscal capacity.

Compounding the issue is that fiscal capacity is determined under a three-year average. Trousdale is in the first year of that period, meaning the greater fiscal capacity will likely lead to further reductions in state BEP funding each of the next two years.

“This next year, that loss could double to near $600,000, or near $900,000 in year three,” Satterfield said. “That’s what we’re trying to educate commissioners about.”

Increases or decreases in the number of students also affects the BEP formulation of state funding for school systems, but not to the extent that fiscal capacity does.

The school system has gone into its fund balance last year and this year to make up for losses in state funding. Estimates from the 2018-19 school budget have the schools using over $1.7 million in fund balance, leaving an estimated $1.686 million as of June 30, 2019 – the end of the fiscal year.

“This is one reason you have a fund balance – to try to offset some of the difference,” Satterfield said. “Fiscal capacity doesn’t mean how much you’re putting in; it’s how much can you contribute.”

County governments are required to maintain funding levels through maintenance of effort, but that requirement does not apply to BEP funding.

Satterfield said in a worst-case scenario, loss of BEP funding could lead to larger class sizes, reductions in the number of teachers, loss of art/music classes or cuts to extracurricular activities.

“That’s not good in any case,” he said. “I can’t think of other wiggle room we would have.”

County Mayor Stephen Chambers said he hoped commissioners and members of the public would attend the meeting to learn about the logistics of education funding.

“The fiscal impact is what’s really hurting us as far as BEP funding,” the mayor said. “We need to understand how the growth we’ve experienced impacts the funding we receive, so that going into next budget year we have a better idea of how that’s done.”

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