published Friday, August 19th, 2011

Bradley County leaders hear school system requests

By Paul Leach

Correspondent

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- While Bradley County Schools plans to spend about $26.5 million on construction projects, the system's needs go well beyond that, its superintendent says.

The system also needs to examine the recurring costs within its operating budget, especially in regard to technology, Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel told county commissioners this week.

"It's time right now -- I'm already getting that from my staff -- that we've got to keep the technology up to date," said McDaniel.

The system spends about $800,000 annually to adequately refresh the school system's computers, servers and assorted peripheral machines, he said.

In a special meeting with the County Commission's finance and education committees, McDaniel presented several priority funding needs and said the school system's most important capital projects amount to about $26.5 million.

The expenses will cover the purchase of land for a third middle school, construction for a new elementary school in southern Bradley, an eight-classroom wing for Walker Valley High School and a new building and improvements for Lake Forest Middle School.

McDaniel explained that the school system has been sustained by federal stimulus money in recent years, but that's no longer available. County schools are simply underfunded, he said.

"We're still funded down at the bottom of the state, and that's not OK," he said. "If that doesn't change, our children will suffer. We won't have what we need in the classroom."

But Commissioner Jeff Yarber, chairman of the education committee, pointed out that Bradley County students scored well in state test rankings.

"Sometimes you wonder: Are we underfunded or are others not using their money wisely?" Yarber said.

McDaniel countered that Bradley County Schools makes plenty of hard decisions, noting what he termed "the minimum in transportation," which puts elementary, middle school and high school students on the same bus.

He also mentioned long waits to address maintenance issues such as roof leaks, which are fixed based on their seriousness.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock recommended that the school board should hold at least two public forums to get input on the funding issues before the finance committee votes on them. He said he saw no way of avoiding a property tax increase if the county is going to fund some of requested projects.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland, Tenn. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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