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Budget amendments to Weakley County School fund had shaky start in HEED

Story by Shannon Taylor Senior Investigative Reporter

A resolution authorizing budget amendments to the general-purpose school fund got off to a shaky start in HEED. Director of Weakley County Schools, Randy Frazier, spoke on the resolution stating, “two things on this resolution—they’re both grant monies—one is a reimbursement on special ed for high needs for part of our bussing that is $35,000 and the other is 4.2 million and this is the ISM grant—the Innovative Schools Model Grant—each of our high schools got a million dollars, our K-12’s got $500,000 and Sharon got $200,000 and the Middle School got $500,000. They were able to have their own advisory board, come up with their budget and look for programs they want to expand in the career tech field. This will be monies that will be spent over the next three years from the state. No local dollars involved with any one of those.”

Commissioner Brian Donavant asked, “I note that there’s expenditures here for vocational instructional equipment, contracting services, building construction, building improvements, but there’s nothing to accompany this to show what these activities are, what the deliverables are, what the plan for this is, and number one I’m curious about those and number two I’m very reluctant to approve, I understand this is state money, but even if it’s state money there’s still taxpayer dollars involved and I want our schools to get everything they need and everything we can possibly get ahold of from other resources so we don’t put an undue burden on Weakley County residents, but for 4 million dollars plus I would like to see and I’m curious about what those deliverables are, what the benchmarks are for the timeline expenditures, and I heard Mr. Frazier say that those are going to be planned on for the next three years, but I haven’t seen grants that you don’t have to have a plan for in front of you, so I’m kind of at a loss here.”

Frazier explained that it was a year process and that there was a full application they did for each school. He said that each school had an advisory committee from their community who worked on it and that everything went through an approval process. Donavant reiterated that he was curious why the board didn’t have those details in front of them and Frazier responded, “we never do get those-they’re available to the public, but we usually don’t bring those when we’re just doing resolutions.”

The resolution failed to pass with a vote of 3-2. According to County Mayor Jake Bynum, all the resolution takes is two sponsors to be approved through Finance, Ways, and Means (FWM).

During the FWM meeting directly after HEED, the resolution was passed under the condition that Frazier bring an outline to the County Commission meeting March 16.

Frazier said, “In the future, the agenda’s been out awhile, if there were questions, we would have been more than glad to give you any details before we got to this meeting today. We’ve normally not had to do that. There’s usually been some trust there.”

Frazier also spoke on the HVAC project at Dresden Elementary School and Westview. Phase one of that project included Dresden Middle School and parts of Westview and that has been completed. Quotes for the project equipment were 1.4 million dollars and the labor and construction, installation and demolition hold an 8.02-million-dollar price tag. The total price is 9.5 million dollars which will include 79 units. Frazier stated that the chiller at Dresden Elementary is on its last leg and that they’ve been there since 1997. “We really have a crisis there.” The project would take approximately two years.

Frazier said that the school could consider paying for the equipment costs which leaves 8 million for the county. Commissioner Roger Donaldson said, “If we go out and borrow 8 million dollars that’s going to put all the burden on the taxpayers. If you raise property tax in a year like this is when people are struggling with gas prices, with the economy, with food costs—I’m not for that. I think we need to figure out a way to spread this out over a few years because it’s not a year to raise property tax and we’d have to go in and borrow this money—the county doesn’t have 8 million laying around.”

Donaldson said that they don’t even know where they are as far as their budget right now and won’t know that until June. “This is a big request. I would like to see the school come up with more and put a little more in the pot.” Frazier said he understood.

Donaldson went on to say, “We’re in a situation right now where everybody is hurting and it’s time to tighten the belt buckle.”

Frazier said, “It’s time for us to be aggressive in our county and recruit some industry and business and get in more revenue and when you start attacking your schools you won’t have a county. That’s the lifeblood. You won’t need roads; you won’t need a lot of things. We either make a commitment that our kids are important or they’re not.”

The County Commission will meet Thursday, March 16 at 5 p.m. at the Weakley County Courthouse Commission room on the first floor.

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