News Briefs:

Commissioners in ‘class’ to learn details of proposed schools budget
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Blount County commissioners went to school Tuesday night. The commission met in a special joint session with the Blount County School Board to discuss the proposed 2007-2008 schools budget.

The two bodies, the commission and the school board, convened at the Blount County School Board.

Troy Logan with the Blount County School System said the system’s $71,300,000 current budget is a 5 percent increase over the 2005-2006 budget. "We’ve had three straight years of growth from the Basic Education Program (formula)," he said in referring to the amount of money given by the state because of growth.

Logan projected this school year would end with about $3.3 million in fund balance. "I have not done a projection of where I think our fund balance will be at June of 2007," he said.

Logan said the 2007-2008 budget proposal is for $71.5 million. While there was a $296,000 decrease, increases were seen in items such as salary, health care and retirement. "We’re setting at a $5 million shortfall," he said.

Board chairman Mike Treadway then opened the floor for commissioners to ask questions.

Logan explained the step program of how teachers are paid. "When we refer to a step, all employees have schedules based on years of service. Each year you move up a step. It’s estimated a step is a 2 percent increase," he said.

The proposed budget calls for a step increase, plus an additional 2 percent. "It’s estimated a step plus 2 percent would cost $1.3 million," he said.

Commissioner Steve Hargis asked how much it cost this year to send one child to school and how much it will cost in 2007-2008. "Based on budget numbers for 2006-2007, it is $7,215 per student," he said. "Our new budget is $7,300, but that’s an estimate."

"The state average is $7,469," Treadway said. "It does cost quite a bit to educate a student."

Steve Samples asked about the cost of textbooks. The amount of textbooks was expected to rise from about half a million to more than a million.

"That will catch us up on all adopted text books up through the 2007-2008 year," Logan said.

Logan said there will be a $12,000 retirement incentive at the end of this year and a $20,000 incentive at the end of the 2007-2008 school year. "The savings we generate from people who replace (retiree's) is in next year’s budget," he said.

Commissioner David Ballard asked who was eligible for retirement and was told that anyone who had reached 60 years old or had with 30 years of service was eligible to retire.

Commissioner Scott Helton asked why the Public Building Authority was getting paid 2 percent of the cost of building projects for new schools when someone at the school board is paid to purchase furniture for schools.

Treadway said the 2 percent is a project manager’s fee that the board agreed to when it went into the contract with the PBA. "Money in the budget is allocated for replacement of furniture for existing schools," Treadway said. "The contract with PBA is for construction of new schools, period. Dr. Brian Bell is paid to provide furniture for existing schools."

Schools director Alvin Hord said that if the commission didn’t fund the full proposed budget, the school board would come back and reduce or eliminate some expenditures. "Outside of salaries, our increases have primarily been like the county’s -- insurance and Tennessee Consolidated Retirement and adding new teachers for growth," he said.

Treadway said the proposed budget was a "wish list" they had put together to provide the best education for the county’s children. "We want our children to be able to compete. We know they’ll be competing to get into college and to get jobs," he said.

Budget hearings will start in March. A new budget must be adopted before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Finney prods Department of Ed on teaching evolution, creationism
From Scripps press reports

If Sen. Raymond Finney has his way, state Education Commissioner Lana Seivers will do something many philosophers and scientists have tried to do for years – answer the question of whether the universe was created by a "Supreme Being."

Finney proposes to use the legislative process to get an answer to the question to the creation question. Under Senate Resolution 17, introduced by the Maryville Republican, the answer would come from Seivers "in report form" no later than Jan. 15, 2008.

Finney said Monday, Feb. 26, that his objective is to formally prod the Department of Education into a dialogue about the teaching of evolution in school science classes without also teaching the alternative of "creationism," or "intelligent design."

The move would thus renew a debate that has raged off and on in the Tennessee Legislature since at least 1925, when the 64th General Assembly enacted a law forbidding the teaching of evolution - setting the stage for the famous John
Scopes "monkey trial" in Dayton, Tenn., later that year.

Finney said there is no doubt in his own mind that everything in the universe, including human beings, was created by a Supreme Being.

"There has never been any proof offered that Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct," he said.

"I’m not demanding that she (Seivers) to do anything," he said, "just asking, ‘Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?’ "

He said the resolution is "giving her the opportunity to say, ‘You’re wrong. There is no creationism.’ "

As the resolution is written, if Seivers does answer no to the first question - stating that the universe was not created by a Supreme Being - she would be offered "the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators and others."

But if she answers yes, or states that the answer to the creation of the universe is uncertain, then there is a follow-up question that must also be answered: Why is creationism not being taught in Tennessee schools?

Finney said he suspects that Seivers would answer that the means of creation of the universe is uncertain. Seivers was not available for comment.

But Bruce Opie, legislative liaison for the Department of Education, said state policy has been "over the last several years" that it is appropriate to teach students about creationism in religion or sociology classes, but not in biology classes.

The State Board of Education decides curriculum for public school courses, he said, and Seivers is basically bound by those board decisions.

As a Senate resolution, the measure needs approval only by the Senate - where Finney and fellow Republicans have a majority of members - to become effective as a formal request to Seivers. The Democrat-dominated House need not take any action.

Opie said department officials would welcome discussion with Finney about his questioning proposal, which has not yet been scheduled for a vote in any committee. Finney said he was not certain when he would bring the resolution up for a vote.

Department officials are analyzing the Finney proposal and have not taken a formal position on it, Opie said, but, "I could possibly see us flagging it." Legislation opposed by the administration is said to carry a "flag" or to be "flagged."

The 1925 statute banning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee was passed by the General Assembly in March. Teacher John Scopes was charged with violating the law and went on trial in July.

Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but the conviction was overturned two years later by the state Supreme Court. The statute was repealed by the Legislature in 1967.

County Health Department begins move on Monday
As workers busy themselves finishing the new Blount County Health Department facility on McGhee Street, officials are preparing to move to the location within the next week.

The site was formerly the Blount County Public Library and most recently was the temporary home for the City of Maryville until the new municipal building was completed. It has been renovated with funding from both the County and the Tennessee General Assembly.

The Blount County Health Department will begin moving into its new facility on Monday, March 5 and hopes to complete the move by March 9.

There health department will be on a reduced schedule on Monday and Tuesday, March 5-6, and will be closed March 7-9.

"We want to serve patients as long as possible with as little interruption as necessary," Blount County Health Department director Micky Roberts said.

On Monday, the staff will provide WIC (women infants and children) and primary care services in the morning; as well as, family planning services in the afternoon. On Tuesday, March 6, they will be providing immunizations and WIC in the morning and family planning services all day.

No services will be provided on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Regular services will resume on Monday, March 12, at the new location.

"This will be a great structure to help us and our primary care partners in our attempt to meet the preventative health care needs of the uninsured citizens of the community," Roberts said. The Health Department’s current facility, located at 1006 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, is overcrowded and short on space, he said.

"This is a win-win for the taxpayer," Roberts said. "We’re breathing new life into a county building to provide improved health department services for years to come."

The new health department building will allow additional space for primary care services, as well as preventive health services.

Basic medical services for uninsured adults are offered on a sliding fee scale based on income, with a $5 minimum fee for each visit. This fee will be in addition to the charges for any drugs or supplies dispensed during the visit.

The primary care clinic provides treatment of acute illnesses, management of chronic diseases and referral assistance.

The Blount County Commission previously authorized the Public Building Authority to issue bonds not to exceed $3 million for the renovations.

The county also received $1 million from the State Health Department to establish a primary care clinic for the uninsured in the wake of TennCare cuts.

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