|Schools to repay nearly $1 million|
|Thursday, July 26, 2012|
Funding the school system became a little more difficult last week after a judge ruled the Sumner County Board of Education illegally docked almost $1 million in withholding for insurance premiums from Sumner County teachers.
Chancery Court Judge D.J. Alissandratos, who was specially-appointed due to conflicts of interest with other judges, ruled in Sumner County Chancery Court last Wednesday that the board's actions were illegal and ordered the board to pay almost $990,000 to Sumner County teachers who had an extra five percent deducted from their paychecks for health insurance premiums beginning in January, 2011.
The repayment will come in the form of reduced premiums over a 12 month period for current teachers and a lump payment to recently retired teachers who qualify for the refund.
“We're really happy,” said Alzenia Walls, president of the Sumner County Education Association. “Our morale just really got a boost – this was a burden over our heads. Hopefully, now we can continue to rebuild our relationship with the school board.”
The attorney representing the school board, Art McClellan, was out of the office on Thursday and unavailable for comment about whether or not the board would appeal the decision.
The ruling compounds a situation in which the Board of Education was already asking for approximately $7.6 million more in funding than the County Commission deems feasible.
The Board of Education held a special-called meeting Tuesday night regarding the budget, but the only motion put forward was shot down after a lack of a second.
That motion, by Vanessa Silkwood, would have reduced raises, frozen early retirement, revisited the idea of privatizing custodial services, and more.
The lack of movement sends the school board's budget back to the county commission, which has already disapproved of it once in its current state.
“I don't know what's going to happen,” said Will Duncan, a school board member. “I can't tell you. I just don't know.”
School Board Chairman Don Long said only one thing can happen without additional revenue from the county commission.
“Any additional cuts at this point means we're going to be firing employees,” he said. “And, I can tell you, we don't have any excess employees.”
“If that's the decision they want to make, that's the decision they want to make,” said Kirk Moser, Chairman of the County Commission Budget Committee. "We cannot line-item their budget for them, but if we could, we would make sure it would not affect the classroom in any way."
“The school board has unanimously passed a budget that reflects the needs of the schools,” Long said. “It's the school board's job to determine the needs and how to spend the money, and it's the county commission's job to fund those needs.”
“We've already given them $2.4 million in new money over last year, and that's before capital projects, which is something like $7 million,” Moser said. “If the schools have a problem with revenue, it's because of the state of Tennessee.”
Commissioner Merrol Hyde of Hendersonville said, "They've got to live within their means. In this economic downturn, people are hurting. I hear it at church, I hear it at the store, I hear it at the barbershop. I can't vote for a tax increase. There's just no other money available. It doesn't mean anyone is not for education -- there's just no other money available."
Walls, meanwhile, said the teacher's union is open to negotiation, but was cautious about how far they could go.
“We can talk about whatever (the board wants) to talk about,” she said. “We're willing to do whatever it takes, but we can't give up everything.”
Walls said the union was scheduled to meet with the school system about the matter on August 3.
By Josh Nelson