It sounds like every child’s dream come true, but for many of Sumner County’s adults the Board of Education’s decision to delay the start of school could be a nightmare. Acting on a recommendation from Director of Schools Del R. Phillips, III, the School Board voted 10-1 to suspend the beginning of school indefinitely until a budget compromise can be found.
At issue is the $7.6 million gap between what the school board says it needs to provide a good education and the amount the County Commission is willing to provide. With the vast majority of the school budget devoted to payroll, Phillips and board members warn this year’s cuts could hit the classrooms. “Do we build our budget to accommodate the commission, or the students? I really hope everybody answers ‘students’,” says Phillips, who said the cuts necessary to balance the budget would have a “devastating, long-term” effect on students.
“It will mean we have less certified teachers working with our students... every school in this county will lose teachers. I can tell you that, that is an absolute fact.”
Phillips’ recommendation was quickly motioned and seconded by board members Ted Wise and Shannon Dunn, respectively. Bethpage’s William Duncan was the first to speak in support of the motion, noting that it met his longstanding goal of a “needs-based budget” rather than one focused on balancing.
District one representative Vanessa Silkwood, who characterized the board’s budget as a “wish list,” was the sole dissenting vote. “And I can say wish list budget because that’s evidenced by a three percent teacher salary increase as opposed to a 2.5 percent salary increase, that’s evidenced by eight new high school guidance counselors, where before there weren’t those new positions. So now we’re saying we won’t compromise at all... Delaying school hurts both students and taxpayers.”
Board member Beth Cox weighed in, noting that last year’s cuts to the proposed budget meant more strain on teachers who had to compensate for decreased substitute funding and other staff that were almost cut from the budget.
Wise stated that it was the board’s job to get every dollar for students that they could get. He called for a joint effort between the board and commission to resolve the issue, but laid part of the responsibility for the impasse at the feet of the County Commission. “I really hate that it has come to a staring match... However a partnership is two-way street.
Phillips also disputed the idea that the school system was being uncooperative, noting they had passed a budget earlier than ever before and distributed both digital and paper copies of the budget to the commission eight days before the Thursday night meeting. “Mrs. Silkwood mentioned a compromise... not one person from our funding body has called the Director of Schools to ask anything about the budget that we sent back over there.”
Board member Andy Daniels got the last word. “We need to make sure our children have the best education they can possibly have... because one day soon they’ll be the leaders we’re looking to that are making the hard decisions and I hope we’ve provided them with the knowledge and education they need to do things right for us, for this county, and for this country. And with that said I’d like to call the question.”
In comments after the roll-call vote, Phillips said, “I think this is an issue that has been building for years. It’s not something that just popped up on the radar. I know I’ve been talking about it since I arrived last June and became familiar with the system.” Phillips noted that relative to other Middle Tennessee counties, Sumner both spends less per student and receives a smaller proportion of the budget from local tax revenue.
By Corey Conley