published Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Hamilton County: Citizen panel frustrated with balanced school budget


by Kelli Gauthier
Audio clip

School board meeting

Despite presenting a budget that balanced to the dollar, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales received a verbal beating from community members Tuesday night, outlining ways in which the school system could have done better.

Upon seeing the balanced budget for fiscal year 2010 for the first time, members of a citizen advisory committee chimed in with complaints and advice throughout the two-hour meeting.

Unum Chief Financial Officer Bob Greving said the school system’s financial model of small schools has kept the district from being able to give pay raises to employees. The model still is broken, a visibly frustrated Mr. Greving said, and the system’s money troubles only will continue year after year.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2010 on April 29. Superintendent Jim Scales will present the budget on May 6 to the County Commission, which also must approve the document.

“You have a balanced budget, so congratulations to you and Tommy (Kranz, the district’s chief financial officer) for coming up with that,” he said. “But you are down to the dollar.”

The Hamilton County Department of Education’s $302 million proposed balanced budget includes closing Howard Middle School and 21st Century Academy and eliminating about 104 positions. The district’s central office will function next year with 38 fewer employees, including Area Superintendent Don Beard and Secondary Operations Director David Cowan, both of whom are retiring and will not be replaced, Dr. Scales said.

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PDF: Hamilton County budget presentation

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PDF: Education budget discussion

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The plan does not include concessions from the Hamilton County Education Association on employee health care benefits, which must be negotiated between the union and the school system.

Irvin Overton, a member of the citizen advisory committee, said it was time for school system employees to recognize that everyone is paying more for health insurance than they were 10-15 years ago.

The salaries of some clerical staff members who make nearly $60,000 a year also came under attack, as citizen advisory committee member Dean Moorhouse questioned whether there should be a cap on their compensation.

“You’ve got teachers with six to seven years of college making less money than a secretary,” he said. “That just doesn’t set well.”

The meeting also touched on topics such as the proposed merger of Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah high schools and the migration and slight decline of the district’s student population. In the end, those present came to few, if any conclusions.

“I don’t think we really accomplished much tonight,” said board member and Finance Committee chairwoman Linda Mosley.

The group of board and community members will meet again May 5, after board members have approved the budget, to discuss a five- to 10-year facilities plan for the district, Ms. Mosley said.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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user_name said...

Maybe we need to appoint Ross Perot as our school superintendent for a few years. I'm sure he would have no problems turning the budget issues around. And bonus, he would probably do it for free!!

April 22, 2009 at 8:01 a.m.
chatt31 said...

I suggest that all teachers and admin. take a accross the board pay cut-- They are doing this elsewhere to prevent major layoffs. So Chattanooga (Hamilton County) Schools you really need to do this--- you are no better than any other school. I actually have a friend that is a music teacher and his comment all the time is -- my job is very very safe unless they do away with music. I didnt think any job was safe!!!!!

April 22, 2009 at 8:50 a.m.
shutterbug said...

Surely you are joking when you ask teachers to take a pay cut. We are not asking for raises, but a pay cut?! My current salary is just above qualifying for food stamps and Welfare for a family of four.

April 22, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.
Oz said...

I bet teachers would happily take a pay cut if the County put in place a tough discipline policy. Zero tolerance from abusive parents and students would be worth a cut.

Most teachers don't see a raise because they are spending their money purchasing supplies for their students and classroom.

Sign up with the school system to be a substitute teacher and you will see teachers should be paid at least $75,000 a year. They do 12 months of work or more in 9 months. I wouldn't do their job for any amount of money.

April 22, 2009 at 1:21 p.m.
siszadok said...

Shutterbug, I agree with chatt31. A cut in salaries across the board would be a fair solution and would prevent your co-workers from losing their jobs and benefits. I don't know what your salary is but unless you are new to the field, I doubt that you are at poverty level. Plus with a family of 4, I am sure you probably have a spouse that is also working. If not they may need to like the rest of us to make ends meet. I am not trying to be hard on you as I believe that teachers deserve to be paid a livable wage. But with the salary increases your union has lobbied for over the last decade teachers are making more than fair compensation. Give us tax payers a break. One more thing get rid of the overpaid administrative staff. They're salaries are outrageous.

April 22, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.
MSPERSISTANT said...

GET RID OF JIM SCALES, HE IS NO BETTER THAN JESSIE REGISTER, I HAVE BEEN IN HAMILTON COUNTY ALL OF MY LIFE AND MY CHILDREN HAVE HAD TO ENDURE THE SCHOOL SYSTEM , THE TEACHERS ARE UNDERPAID, THE CENTRAL OFFICE IS OVER PAID, AND FOR WHAT? SO THE CHILDREN CAN DO WITHOUT THE TEXT BOOKS THEY NEED, AND WORRY ABOUT IF THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE TRANSPORTASTION TO SCHOOL, WE DONT NEED THE BUS SYSTEM WE HAVE NOW, GO BACK TO INDEPENDENT BUS DRIVERS, IF THEY ARE EVEN GOING TO BE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A SCHOOL TO GO TO, BUT LETS LET DR SCALES GO HOME TO THE EXCLUSIVE HOME, AND DRAW THE EXTRAVAGENT SALERY, AND DRIVE THE NICE CAR, AT OUR CHILDRENS EXPENCE,,,, MAKES YOU WANT TO THINK ABOUT MOVING OUT OF THE COUNTY

April 22, 2009 at 3:15 p.m.
chatt31 said...

I do agree that Jim Scales is paid too much-- if you read my comment I said all accross the board-- that includes Jim Scales. Boston is doing this to prevent so many teachers from being laid off. Think about this with the ecomony as bad as it is and god knows how much longer it will last I would rather take a pay cut and know I have a job than refuse and buck the system and get laid off with no job at all. Once again everyone needs to understand NO JOB IS SAFE-- I am sick of hearing teachers say oh my job is safe I am a music teacher the only way I will loose my job is they close the music department.. Well that just might happen to many!! We are to think and love one another-- so taking a pay cut accross the board will work and you all still have a job!! Do you really want to be unemployed like the millions right now?

April 22, 2009 at 6:46 p.m.
Oz said...

Teachers are overpaid. They are just glorified babysitters and should be paid as such. $3 an hour is enough. $3 x 25 students is $75.00 an hour. $75 x 6 hours of instruction per day is $450.00. (We should not pay them for lunch and we are definitely not going to pay them for the work they do at home.) $450.00 x 5 days is $2,250.00 per week. The school year is 180 days or 36 weeks. 36 weeks x $2,250 is $81,000 per year. Let's see.........babysitters are paid too much.

April 22, 2009 at 7:53 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

Much like our government officials, the board members and administrative end are such self serving and egotistical dolts would never consider their salary too extravegant and would never sacrifice ANY of their income in the best interest of the kids or the taxpayers. Our greedy, self serving yahoos need to by knocked down a peg or too and reminded of where some of them came from.

April 22, 2009 at 9:49 p.m.
shutterbug said...

Chatt31, tell me again how much experience you have working in education?

April 23, 2009 at 8:50 a.m.
MountainJoe said...

Hey Oz, I like your thought process. Let's follow it to its logical conclusion....

I agree that $81,000 per year is reasonable compensation for a teacher who is in the classroom with 25 kids, 6 hours a day, for 180 days per year. Provided, of course, that the $81K is inclusive of all benefits. After all, baby-sitters don't get insurance, paid leave, retirement benefits, etc. on top of their $3 per hour.

So if each teacher can handle 25 students and we have a total of 40,000 students, that means we need 1600 teachers for a total instructional payroll of $129.6 million.

Now let's generously assume that in addition to the 6 hours of classroom time, each student also spends an average of 3 hours per day on a bus, at lunch, or involved in some extracurricular activity. So let's multiply our previous figure by 9/6 (that's 1.5 for those who have trouble with fractions) to arrive at a total budget for all personnel of $194.4 million.

Now let's add another 20% on top of that to heat and cool the buildings, keep the lights on, and buy chalk and supplies. That takes us to an overall school system budget of $233.28 million.

Works for me! The actual school system budget this year is $347.94 million, so next year when we adopt Oz's plan, the taxpayers will net a massive tax reduction ... which is sorely needed in this recession.

The best feature of this plan is that Dr. Scales and all the bureaucrats in the central office who never set foot in a classroom will get a salary of $0!

Why do the actual numbers not add up with this analysis? Because the HCDE has far more employees than it really needs. (They admit to "about 6,500" ... from what I understand it is actually closer to 7,000.) Even taking the lower figure, that is one employee for every 6.15 students.

No wonder we can't pay teachers what Oz thinks they are worth....

April 23, 2009 at 3:51 p.m.
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