skip to main content
School Matters: Budget
Posted On:
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Dr. Jeff Perry, Superintendent of Hamblen County Schools
Dr. Jeff Perry, Superintendent of Hamblen County Schools
School Matters by Dr. Jeff Perry

Editor's note: This is the most current in a series of columns by Hamblen County School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry. Others are archived and can be obtained by clicking this link:  School Matters.

 

School Matters - Budget

 

As we begin to prepare the school budget for this year, I think of the process used by the Mafia when interviewing accountants.  They asked the first candidate, “What is two plus two?”   The candidate responded, “Four.” They dismissed that candidate and asked the next person the same question.  That person also answered, “Four.”  Disappointed, the gangsters brought in the final candidate.  When asked the same question, the final candidate looked around the room carefully, lowered his voice, and in a conspiratorial tone replied, “What do you need it to be?”

 

We don’t develop a school budget based on this philosophy, but it does seem like the state and federal government utilize the same type of accountants when deciding the revenue they send to us!  We fully understand that the budget for public school education is often the largest single item in any state or local budget.  With this significant contribution, the Office of the Superintendent and the Hamblen County Board of Education, have a tremendous responsibility to be good stewards of the money that is allocated to us.  Not only are we responsible for the educational process, we also understand that the school district is often the largest employer and has a major impact on the local economy.  We take this responsibility seriously, and we are diligent in our efforts to make sound financial decisions.   At this time of year, it may be beneficial to explain a few things about our budget, the source of the money, and how it is spent. 

 

In the vast majority of states school boards are fiscally independent and they possess the ability to tax.  However, Tennessee school districts have no authority to generate revenue and are legally required to be funded by the federal government, the state government, and the county commission.   The responsibility for providing a free and appropriate education is a shared commitment between the state and the local county commission.  

 

The total budget for the Hamblen County Department of Education in 2017-2018 was approximately $98,000,000.  We receive revenue from three primary areas.  First, the federal government provides about 12% of our budget for programs such as special education, at-risk  programs, school nutrition, etc.  Second, the state provides about 56% of our funding, and much is based on student enrollment. The majority of state money is allocated through the Basic Education Program, or BEP.  It is important to understand that the BEP only provides for the basic educational program, and no district could operate a modern educational program with only basic aid.  The BEP doesn’t fully fund all of the positions required by the state, and it doesn’t fully fund all of the positions within a school district.  Third, local money from the county commission provides the second largest source of revenue, which amounts to about 32% of our budget.

 

We want to acknowledge that the local government supports our school district beyond what is legally required.  We sincerely appreciate the commissioners and the citizens of Hamblen County for that support.  We pledge to be good stewards of that money and will ensure that we provide the best possible educational opportunities to our students.  We attempt to put our financial resources in the schools where it can make the most difference.  The budget clearly indicates that the vast bulk of our salaries are spent on staff members who have daily contact with our students and who have the most impact on student achievement.  It is also important to note that the population of Hamblen County is approximately 63,000.  Our school district works with over 10,000 students and nearly 1,000 staff members on a daily basis.  This means that we work with nearly a sixth of the total population of Hamblen County each day.  It is our hope that the school district is seen as an asset to Hamblen County and not a liability.   

 

We place the majority of our money into salaries and benefits because we firmly believe that our staff members are the most important asset we have.  Approximately 80% of our budget is designated for salaries and benefits.  It is often said that school budgets are heavily loaded with central office staff salaries.  Hamblen County Schools’ budget doesn’t sustain this argument because approximately 96% of all salaries and benefits are for people working within the individual school buildings.  We think it is important to note that 96 cents of each dollar spent for salaries are allocated within the schools for staff positions such as teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses, principals, custodians, paraprofessionals, etc.  We also possess the firm belief that we must provide our staff with competitive salaries and benefits to attract and retain the best quality employees.   It is critical that we continue to improve our compensation of teachers to ensure that we can place the best teachers within the classroom.

 

 

It is important to look at the demographics of our students to better understand why we have the budget we do.  Approximately 70% of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  These students are identified as economically disadvantaged because they are dealing with a variety of poverty issues that create educational obstacles that must be overcome.  About 14% of our students have been identified as needing some type of special education service.  A little over 25% of our students are Hispanic.  About 13% of our students are considered English Language Learners, and they demonstrate some difficulty with the English language.  

 

Individuals with thoughts and suggestions on the school budget may send their ideas to the superintendent, who will share them with the school board.  Individuals may also elect to speak with the superintendent and leadership team at a community forum in the Heritage Room of the Central Office on May 1 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Individuals may share their thoughts, suggestions, and ideas at that time.  This forum will be less formal than the actual 6:00 p.m. budget work session.  Community members will have the opportunity to talk with the central office leadership team and ask questions.   Individuals may also email their thoughts and ideas to Mrs. Goforth at gofortha@hcboe.net

 

It is our intent to develop a budget around our priorities instead of developing a budget and then attempting to squeeze our educational needs into the budget.  Our community forum on May 1 will be a great opportunity for community members to share their thoughts on the budget with key decision makers.  In the end, we must create a budget in which all of the numbers actually work out and which meets the educational needs of our staff and students.  Often it would be much easier to work with the Mafia budget process, but we really don’t have that luxury.  Instead, we will develop a budget around our educational priorities and ensure that our students have access to the best possible educational opportunities.   Even with the new math, it is extremely difficult to create a balanced budget!   Thanks for your attention to this article.    Remember:  School Matters!

 

Jeff Perry, Superintendent