JACKSBORO, TN (WLAF)- A packed courtroom broke out in cheers and applause Tuesday night when the Campbell County Board of Education voted to reverse a previous decision to downsize White Oak Elementary School by transferring 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to Wynn.
The original plan was one of numerous changes to cut the budget in response to a looming $1.8 million deficit, but after the finance office calculated the numbers, it was discovered that the change would only save $18,000, not enough to make even a small dent in the deficit.
The board had voted last week at a budget workshop to eliminate grades 6-8 at White Oak and bus those students to Wynn, improving the lopsided teacher-student ratio. However, two teachers would also be transferred to Wynn, and the expanded bus service would cost another $30,000, the board learned. In the end only $18,454 would be saved by the move, which was strongly opposed by parents and teachers at White Oak.
The only board member to question the reversal was Johnny Byrge. “My biggest concern is that we’ve talked about making cuts and we’re losing an assistant principal at Campbell County High School, which is a major concern for me,” he said. “You’ve got one assistant principal at CCHS and one at Jellico High. That’s 487 students for each administrator at CCHS and 151 students at Jellico. It’s going to come back to bite us,” Byrge commented, then adding that he wouldn’t oppose the change if Director of Schools Jennifer Fields recommended it.
“It’s not that we’ve wasted money. The deficit is due to factors beyond our control,” Fields replied, referring to loss of student population across the state and subsequent decreases in state BEP funding. “We’re losing over 100 students per year and when the vouchers become active, we’ll lose an even greater number,” she added.
The bulk of the budget cuts made to address the deficit involved not replacing retired teachers, offering an incentive bonus to teachers to retire early and cutting he number of administrative personnel, while some additional revenue will come from the state for serving at-risk students.
“I want to go on record (questioning the White Oak decision). I don’t know where you can cut next year,” Byrge concluded.
“I’ll vote to approve the budget,” Faye Heatherly stated. “I don’t want us to forget what we can do in the classroom. We need to stay focused on classes,” apparently referring to many people’s focus on athletics and other non-classroom activities. Byrge has consistently promoted spending for athletic fields and related activities.
In the end, all 10 board members voted to retain White Oak as a Pre-K through 8 school, including Noah Smith, who attended the meeting on Skype while out of town. Smith cast his voted over a computer monitor on Fields’ desk.
At the outset of the meeting, the board honored the principal and staff at Elk Valley Elementary, which was named one of only nine schools in the state to be designated a STEM school this year for progress in math & science education.
Harley Hicks, a student at LaFollette Elementary was also recognized for her winning entry in the Reading Fair. Harley was unable to attend the meeting last month when other winners were honored.
The board concluded by voting unanimously to approve the 2019-20 school year budget, but recessed their meeting until June 27 in order to approve any year-end budget amendments. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED 06/13/019- 6 AM)