KCS completes budget proposal, calls for three new schools, 3.5% salary raise

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County School Board will vote on a budget proposal for next school year, to be submitted for approval to the Knox County Commission, Wednesday. 

Roughly $229,400,000 of the district’s $506,652,000 estimated budget comes from state funding. Their budget includes a 3.5% salary increase for both certified and classified staff, totaling $12.2 million. It also includes step increases in salary for eligible employees, costing the district $3.9 million. 

     More Online | Read the full budget proposal

Board Chair, Terry Hill, said the .5% dip in their original goal of a 4% pay raise is directly tied to fewer state dollars coming to Knox County than projected. For three years, according to Knox County’s Finance Director, the district has seen an average growth of $12 million in state funds.

For the upcoming school year, according to the most recent projection, Knox County will receive $7.1 million more than last year. While that may not mean fewer dollars than last year, it is five million less than anticipated. 

     More Online | Proposed Knox County Schools 2020 budget includes teacher raises, 3 new schools

Governor Bill Lee’s budget did call for a statewide pay increase for teachers. The finance director indicated Monday that Knox County’s portion of the $7.1 million covers less than half of the total cost. 
The total cost for a district-wide 4% pay raise in Knox County would total $14 million. 

Knox County Schools is also proposing to the board Wednesday a $15,800,000 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes improvements to existing schools, including upgrades at school physical plants, roofing, HVAC upgrades and repairs, technology and security, but also funds to lay the groundwork for three new elementary schools, and additions to two others. 

The plan outlines a plan for a new Northwest Elementary School, a new and larger Adrian Burnett Elementary School, and a new Lonsdale Elementary School.  It also proposes additions at Brickey-McCloud and Sterchi Elementary Schools. 

In the plan, the school system recommends immediately funding the purchase of land for a Northwest Elementary, with design work and construction to begin in FY 2021. It proposes buying land and beginning design work on a new Adrian Burnett Elementary in FY 2020. It calls for the addition to Brickey-McCloud to begin FY 2021 and Sterchi to begin 2023. 

The proposed new Lonsdale, which school leaders aim to design to hold 600 students, would include discussing buying the City of Knoxville’s property adjacent to the current campus and could “eliminate the need to continue to maintain the Sam E. Hill facility”.

The proposal says after the build is complete, “the existing Lonsdale Elementary building can be demolished creating needed space for parking and traffic flow”. 

The cost for all three new schools ultimately is projected to cost $57-65 million. 

Board member Tony Norman thinks the board should be more focused on trimming the fat. Norman, who previously served on the county commission, said: “I’ve heard this like a dozen times, every year we get more money in natural growth, but it’s never enough.” 

Norman also thinks the board should look at spending on outside programs offered by the district that may not touch many students. Norman supports pay increases for teachers but said Monday he doesn’t think it should automatically apply to administrators. Norman also supports building new schools but believes the district sees enough resources that it could build by putting back a little each year, without going into debt.

“I think we have that much excess,” he said. 

School Board Chair, Terry Hill, said she’s optimistic about the county’s reaction to their requests. She said she felt this administration is listening to the needs and concerns of school leaders more closely than previous administrations. Hill also said board members have worked closely with county leaders, including Mayor Jacobs, on overcoming the shortfall of state funds. 

She hopes for more “wiggle room” closer to July, as the state funds change, and potentially get the raise amount back up to four percent.

“If we don’t have good, solid, teachers that are feeling good about where they are and what they’re doing and able to take care of their own families, they certainly cannot be expected to give 100% to our students,” she said. “A big part of that is giving them an equitable pay, especially for what they can make in our surrounding counties and right now we’re just not able to do that.”

The .5% cut in the original pay raise goal for the district, Hill said, is a direct result of the shortfall from Nashville. 

Hill also said Monday she finds it hard to believe the $25 million Gov. Lee earmarked for school vouchers, or ESAs, aren’t related to the dip in funding to school districts. 

Before this budget cycle, Knox County Schools and Knox County Government were under an “MOU” or Memorandum of Understanding.

The agreement, signed under the Burchett Administration, basically said the district couldn’t ask for more money than was coming in from natural growth in population. The agreement being lifted opens up the door for the district to ask for more capital funds.

“That does make a huge difference, certainly. we held true to what we agreed to in that three-year period and now we’ve got to start moving forward again,” Hill said. 

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