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Obion County Commission unanimous in opposition to school voucher program

Obion County Commission unanimous in opposition to school voucher program
By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
The Obion County Commission has officially gone on record opposing a proposed school voucher program.
The commission voted 20-0 at its meeting Monday to approve a resolution opposing legislation to create a school voucher program in Tennessee without adequate state funds being appropriated to local school districts to cover the additional costs.
The state Legislature has been considering the program, which would open the door for state funding for students to attend private schools, and the county commission’s resolution will be sent to the legislators who represent Obion County in Nashville.
Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire read the proposed resolution to county commissioners gathered for the 21-member panel’s monthly session Monday morning at the Obion County Public Library in Union City. He said local officials are opposed to a school voucher program without restrictions.
According to the resolution approved by the commission, they contend vouchers divert public taxpayer dollars from local public schools and use the funds to pay the tuition for public school students to attend private schools.
The resolution states that vouchers “would essentially operate as an unfunded mandate for local public school systems since the removal of a few students from a school would likely not reduce the number of required teachers and would not reduce the capital costs associated with the school, yet the public school system would lose funding to cover these costs.”
It was also noted in the commission’s resolution that many private schools cannot or do not offer special education services, which will remain a significant cost to the public schools that all provide such services, and that the program would put additional pressure on the local property tax to restore adequate funding for public schools to make up for funds diverted into vouchers.
Obion County Com-mission chairman Ralph Puckett said state Rep. Bill Sanderson is opposed to the school voucher program which has been proposed, but state Rep. Andy Holt is in favor of it. He said he and others from Obion County discussed Holt’s position with him when they were in Nashville for a meeting last week.
“We rode him pretty hard,” Puckett said, adding Holt indicated he has 13 families who want the program.
Commissioner Cloney Taylor said the proposed school voucher program is no advantage to public school systems and would take funding away from them. Commissioner Jim Bondurant said in order to “preserve our public schools,” the commission should oppose the program.
McGuire said all the counties surrounding Obion County are also considering the adoption of resolutions to express opposition.
Other action
In other action during Monday morning’s hour-long meeting, which was opened with prayer led by Union City First Baptist Church pastor Dr. Cecil Sewell and with the Pledge of Allegiance, the county commission:
• Voted 13-6 to establish an audit committee, which it was noted could be very beneficial to local municipalities’ participation in the ThreeStar program for community development and their grant opportunities. Creation of an audit committee was also recommended as a best practice in the county’s annual audit for the last fiscal year.
McGuire said the committee would basically be a “watchdog committee” and would meet once or twice a year to review the county’s audit. However, some commissioners have expressed concerns about it being yet another mandate the state is placing on counties or a way of ultimately forcing the county to adopt a centralized purchasing system.
Commissioners Donnie Braswell, Puckett, Kenneth Barnes, Paul Albright, Jerry Grady and Ned Bigelow voted against the motion to form the committee.
In a related matter, the commission then approved McGuire’s recommendation that the committee be comprised of the chairmen of the county commission and the budget and finance committees, or their designees, as well as a certified public accountant, a banker and an attorney. He said CPA Jim Thompson and banker Johnny Fowler have agreed to serve, with the attorney to be announced.
• Accepted a letter of approval from the state comptroller’s office for the issuance of a capital outlay note not to exceed $200,000. The commission adopted a resolution Jan. 22 to authorize the issuance of a note to fund courthouse maintenance, parking lot pavement and the purchase of vehicles for the sheriff’s department.
• Approved resolutions to amend the General Purpose School Fund ($136,746 to reflect engineering costs and repairs to secure a wing at Hillcrest Elementary School due to damage caused by extreme drought, as well as the renovation of the vacant career technology center progressing more rapidly than anticipated for use as the county board of education’s new central office); the General Fund ($2,000 for creation of a line item in the litter grant budget for travel expenses to litter and solid waste training events); the General Fund ($1,910 for equipment and training for the Veterans Service office); and the General Fund ($200 to reflect unexpected revenue from DUI treatment fines) and the Debt Service Fund ($5,000 to reflect unexpected revenue from the jail litigation tax after the tax was dropped and the jail paid off).
Commissioners learned county attorney Steve Conley has been researching the use of jail litigation tax funds for jail and courthouse projects and the commission may consider reimplementing the tax in the future.
• Approved a motion to start the engineering process and obtain bids for the replacement of heating and air units at the county jail.
Courthouse committee chairman Dean Jowers said the committee hopes to have estimates by July in order to start the replacement of the jail units by fall. It was also suggested to establish a rotation basis for replacement of the units.
• Approved the reappointment of Jim Rippy to the Joint Economic & Community Development board and the appointment of Lee Jay Hobbs of Kenton to the highway board from District 3. An appointment to the highway board from District 1 was postponed until the commission’s May meeting.
• Voted to approve 21 notary public applications.
• Was welcomed to the library by assistant library director Jarred Clayton, who expressed appreciation for the county commission’s support, and was invited to enjoy a brunch buffet afterward. Several members of the library’s board and support organization were also on hand to greet commissioners.
Commissioner Kenneth Cheatham was absent from Monday’s meeting. Two commissioners, Danny Jowers and Terry Dwyer, joined the meeting after it was already under way.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 3.19.13

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