Tennessee comptroller accepts county’s budget action; education commissioner’s approval still needed to keep schools open

Published in print September 9, 2015

CELINA-Action taken by the Clay County commission here last week has been accepted by the State Comptroller’s Office effectively fending off a county shutdown, but the same can’t be said for the school system in the coming months as of yet.

“The comptroller has accepted the commission’s action meaning we are not in violation of the law right now, therefore we remain open, but it still remains to be seen if the commissioner of education will accept the budget they have given us,” director of schools Jerry Strong said Monday. “We have to submit a budget to (Commissioner Candice McQueen) by October 1 and it will be her decision whether or not to cut off (state) funding.

“So, yes, if she cuts off funding, we will close. If she doesn’t, we can still operate.”

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 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.

“If this budget stands to October 1 and that’s what we submit, then it would be the commissioner’s decision to accept it or not and her decision whether funding will be cut off or not,” Strong reiterated when asked if the closing of schools was still in question. “We are on hold until that decision is made.”

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—a date which now may become the next looming deadline.

The school board meets this Thursday at Hermitage Springs School, but according to the agenda for the meeting, no discussion was set to take place on the issue.

“The board submitted a budget and they stand by that budget,” Strong said of the agenda making no mention of the issue. “This school board has made every good faith effort to submit a responsible budget to the commission and there’s nothing to review.

“If this decision stands, and everybody agrees it can’t stand, then every school board in the state of Tennessee is defunct.”

The school board meeting will begin with a planning session at 6 p.m. followed by the regular session at 6:30 p.m. The county commission will meet for their next regular session on Monday, September 14 at 6:30 p.m. due to the Labor Day holiday.

See a future HORIZON for more on this ongoing story.