By Steve Hunley

The Knox County Board of Education will meet tonight to consider the budget recommended by the superintendent. The superintendent and his staff have reconfigured the budget after the board delayed the vote in the hope of “finding” more money and avoiding cuts to various programs. Having been a member of the board of education once upon a time, I realize board members have no more important responsibility than approving a budget. The board of education has no power to fund its own budget; that is an authority reserved solely for the county commission. Precisely because board has no responsibility to fund its own budget, there is good reason to suspect some board members are much more willing to spend than those who actually have to pay for it.

The original budget recommended by the superintendent contained cuts to various programs, which caused a firestorm from parts of the county where some folks felt they derived a benefit from those programs. Those same folks didn’t seem to much care whether the programs worked well, nor did them seem to be especially concerned if the taxpayers were getting their money’s worth. That was beside the point. The view taken was one of entitlement.  The superintendent was forced to recommend cuts after expenses increased for insurance, the school system’s share of contributing to teacher pensions, and the like. Knox County government always seems to be well aware of such increases, but to listen to some members of the board, they were astonished to think insurance costs were rising. The board members who were astonished coincidently happened to be those members who had routinely voted along with former superintendent Jim McIntyre to overspend the school system’s budget. During the last two years of McIntyre’s reign as superintendent, the school system overspent by $30 million. Now they desperately needed that money and there is a certain class of board member who thinks that whenever they need more money, the county or the State of Tennessee should come to the rescue and “find” more money for them to spend. Currently, the Knox County School system spends roughly $500 million annually; that’s half of a billion dollars.

Voting for cuts certainly can be awfully hard and virtually nobody wants to do it, which is precisely why the federal government continually operates in the red. Some of the Board members would make mighty good congressmen, as there couldn’t possibly be a deficit big enough to suit them. Fortunately, the school system has gotten more money from the state than they originally anticipated, although they’ve received slightly less from the county.

The final budget the superintendent has recommended fills many of the holes in the former budget recommendation. His budget doesn’t give everybody everything, but it is generous and it stresses those areas where programs are working. The taxpayers have a right to expect the biggest return on every tax dollar spent. That attitude and expectation doesn’t harm school children or the parents who support them. Never forget, to some people the best tax is one you derive a direct benefit from, yet don’t pay.

Through a steady habit of appropriating one time money for continuing expenses, increasing the bureaucracy relentlessly throughout McIntyre’s time as superintendent, and a diet of overspending, the school system has finally run its ox into the ditch.

Reasonable budgets, such as the most recent one recommended by the superintendent, will do much to restore confidence in the school system. Board members need to do their job and vote for or against a budget tonight. For those board members who don’t want to take a stand, cut expense or advocate higher taxes, you’re not doing your job. It’s well past time to move forward and approve the superintendent’s budget recommendation.