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Without a $1.8 million boost, several school programs, sports will be on the CHOPPING BLOCK

Without $1.86 million in extra funds, the Washington County School System would have to face cutting 23 positions, necessary textbook and bus purchases, and several athletic programs to balance its 2010-2011 budget.
The Washington County School Board chose not to make those cuts at its June 24 budget workshop, but instead opted to send on to the County Commission a “needs” budget that is a little more than $1.8 million out of line.
School board members and school staff are hoping the commission will not only supply the $1.8 million, but also help the system find extra funds so that the budget issue is not a recurring one.
The positions that would be cut include 10 instructional assistants, two assistant principals, five nurses, and the county’s two newly created athletic director positions. Athletics on the chopping block could be baseball, softball, football, track, wrestling, cross country, volleyball, soccer and golf.
The current budget deficit, according to school officials, stems from expenses to open and operate the two new schools, Grandview and Ridgeview, without any new revenue streams. In addition, the major revenue source for the schools, sales tax, has seen a harrowing drop during the economic downturn.
The system expects to collect $12.6 million in sales tax for the next fiscal year, about $900,000 below what was collected two years ago.
The schools have lost about $1.3 million to $1.4 million alone over two years due to falling sales tax figures and the lost interest on that money.
“There are a lot of factors that drive the budget,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. The simple fact is that we had to hire 24 individuals we hadn’t needed before [with the opening of the two new schools] and that put us $1.2 million in the hole. We’ve never been able to recover.”
As it stands, the system has seen a $2 million decrease in revenue, and has already cut $945,000 out of its budget, heavily impacting technology, language programs, instructional supplies, arts, maintenance, libraries and staff development.
Fixed charges such as retirement rates and medical insurance rates have also increased to the tune of almost $1 million more in costs for the system.
Dykes said county commissioners asked him to prepare a list of cuts if the money was not given to the schools.
“We’ll have a budget in line, but at what expense,” asked Dykes. “This will drastically impact the quality of education in Washington County Schools. We must have new revenue. We have cut to the quick.”
School board member also lamented the fact that no teachers would be getting raises, and said the system is falling steadily behind when it comes to paying teachers the going salary.
“We’ve struggled every single year just to maintain what we have,” Dykes said.
Teacher salaries show up in spending per students, Dykes said, and Washington County’s figure —  $7,652 per pupil —  ranks 12 out of 13 systems in East Tennessee, and the state ranks 41 out of the 50 states.
“It’s a shame one of the wealthiest counties still does not support its educational institutions at even the state average,” Dykes said.
Five bids were also received and opened for the project to repair two rows in Daniel Boone HIgh School’s stadium.
J.E. Greene Co. was selected to do the job, which will cost a little more than $133,000.