ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Commission’s budget committee continued Monday night’s work on developing a budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year by reviewing the biggest part of the budget: the Carter County school system. Director of Schools Tracy McAbee led the presentation and told the committee that most of the revenue from schools is still undefined.
The state contributed most of the school system budget. McAbee told the committee that in the past, the school system expected to receive about $36 million from the state’s basic education program. That system is being replaced but full details have not been determined, McAbee said. It was previously estimated that the new funding formula would provide a few million more to county schools.
This total could be reduced by the decline in school attendance after the COVID-19 pandemic. McAbee told the committee that COVID-19 had a significant impact on system attendance. McAbee said that at worst, total enrollment in Carter County schools has dropped by 400 students during the pandemic.
The principal said attendance had recovered, but was still down about 200 from pre-COVID times, with an enrollment of 4,400 students.
The system anticipates a drop in state funding due to declining enrollment, but McAbee said he expects to cover declining revenue through attrition, with several teachers planning to retire. McAbee said teachers who retire will be replaced, but by younger teachers at the top and bottom of the pay scale.
Another impact of COVID-19 is fading. These are free lunches and breakfasts for all students. Lindsey Feathers, director of school nutrition, told the committee that the county’s four high schools would revert to the pre-COVID days, when some students qualified for free and reduced meals, while other students paid for their lunches.
This change only affects high schools. Feathers told the committee that one change from the pre-COVID days is that it continues to be difficult to find workers for all the cafeterias in the system.
One thing that will remain the same are the summer schools, including one scheduled for June 2023.
The budget committee reviewed several other small budgets in the county’s general fund. These included the mayor’s budget, county buildings, coroner and archives. The mayor’s budget has been increased to fill the new position of communications manager, who will oversee the county’s emergency communications system.
Budget committee member Brad Johnson noted that most of the county’s general fund, for the sheriff’s department and the jail department, was not scrutinized and criticized Sheriff Dexter Lunceford for not failed to submit its budget in time.
Johnson said all other office holders met the deadlines set by the committee.