published Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Bradley schools may save to fund Lake Forest work

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Members of the Bradley County Board of Education want to consider starting a major "program of savings" of at least $2 million a year to fund the estimated $14 million renovation of Lake Forest Middle School.

In a recent meeting, Vice Chairman Nicholas Lillios recommended the county school system become self-reliant in getting started on a proposed overhaul of the middle-school campus. That work would include construction of a 57-room academic building that will replace a dozen classroom pods scattered across the 75-acre campus.

The project is intended to head off at least $6 million in roof, drainage and other structural repairs and provide energy savings. Overhauling the campus, which was established in 1976, was estimated to cost $12 million three years ago.

"I believe it's time to start making the sacrifice ... because I understand that putting away a substantial amount of money is going to require a sacrifice in programs," Lillios said.

The recommendation calls for saving $2 million in the 2014-15 budget and $3 million in each of the next four years. The system could afford to do the work itself within five years instead of relying on the Bradley County Commission to fund the project someday, he said.

The commission voted 8-6 in September to allocate $12 million to the capital project in 2017, moving the proposed funding date by one year. However, that depends on available funding and is tied to projected revenue increases related to the Wacker plant in Cleveland.

A tax increase to fund the capital project does not seem likely either, Lillios said.

Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, said cutting programs would be a critical hindrance to the academic process.

"I don't want to do anything that would hurt the academic outcome," he said. "There aren't a lot of places to cut. There's not fat in this budget. When you're cutting our budget, you're cutting bone and muscle."

The board could hold some capital outlay funding for future needs instead of cutting programs, McDaniel said.

Board member Chris Turner recommended saving $500,000 to $2 million annually.

He said the system could get less state funding if students leave the county system for private schools as a result of the implementation of Common Core standards.

"That's a courageous thing to ask, and it's certainly not popular, but it's responsible," Turner said of Lillios' recommendation. "I think this board has to look at the scenario models and really challenge ourselves about priorities."

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

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