Published in print September 30, 2015
By THOMAS P. WEAVER
HERMITAGE SPRINGS-Despite action taken by the county commission to avoid a county shutdown late last month, the possibility of schools closing next week remains on the table, according to recently released September school board minutes and comments from director of schools Jerry Strong over the weekend.
Minutes from the regular session held here at Hermitage Springs School September 10 said Strong stated he “is still not sure that the State Department of Education (DOE) will accept our school budget and schools could still close on October 9 if that is the case,” and he further explained that statement in a HORIZON phone interview over the weekend.
“I have contacted the state and explained to them we will not be submitting an approved budget by the October 1 deadline because we don’t have one,” Strong said. “All we have is a mandate from the county commission.
“We do not have a budget that has been approved by both the school board and the county commission.”
Strong said officials he spoke with at the DOE told him state funding “will be cut off” without an approved budget, effectively shutting down the school system.
“If that happens then the October 9 date is still in effect,” he said, “because we simply won’t have the money to operate past that without the (state) funding.”
The closing of schools still remains in question because the budget submitted by the school board reflecting an additional request of $200,000 to cover costs associated with the Affordable Care Act was rejected by the county budget committee and the county commission voted to appropriate funds that are “no more than the projected revenues” for the schools, otherwise known as a “maintenance of effort” school budget—one including the same money as was appropriated last year plus an additional state mandated $16,000.
This action, which is still being reviewed by the school board’s attorney, came just hours before a new law was set to strip the county of its spending authority on August 31—effectively shutting down the entire entity.
Before the most recent, now averted shutdown deadline came to light, school board members had originally voted to set October 9 as the last day of school if the budget increase was not approved.
Minutes from the September school board meeting also said Strong explained “the effect this would have on the other counties by setting a precedent” if what he described as the county’s mandate stood at the state level.
“If this decision stands, and everybody agrees it can’t stand, then every school board in the state of Tennessee is defunct,” the director previously said.
When questioned about a timetable concerning the DOE’s decision, Strong said he was unsure.
“Nobody has been down this road before. This is all new,” he said. “So, I can’t really give you a timetable right now.”
See next week’s HORIZON for more on this ongoing story.