District should hire additional teacher, build ballfields

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

With all the anger at the grassroots level for perceived overspending by government, and news stories about bankrupted cities and states, I’m intrigued by comments I’ve overheard from people who are complaining that Trimble County School District is “sitting on millions of dollars” in its budget.

It is true. The district does have a considerable amount of money in its reserves. The board is required by state law to have an amount equal to 2 percent of its general fund expenses in its unrestricted reserve – or contingency – fund. Bob Waggoner, who manages the district’s budget, said he likes to see at least 5 percent in contingency funds.

With a projected $1,065,221 in its contingency fund, the district exceeds even Waggoner’s cushion. The amount represents 6.8 percent of the district’s general fund expenses.

“The [contingency] fund is necessary for maintaining adequate cash flow during the year, providing for unanticipated emergency expenditures, and to provide a buffer from immediate program cuts in the event of any reduction in receipts,” Waggoner writes in his assessment of the 2010-11 working budget, presented at the Sept. 15 Board of Education meeting. The district also has a general fund escrow balance of nearly $2.78 million.

In this day and age, such frugal management of taxpayer money should be commended. The district, Waggoner has said many times, manages its money well. What a refreshing change.

And, it means that, even if the state is forced to make additional cuts to education to balance its beleaguered budget, our school district is not in any danger of having to cut staff and programs to make ends meet. There aren’t many school districts in this state – or probably in the nation – with this type of comfort zone.

That said, however, I do agree that some of the money should be spent on hiring an additional kindergarten teacher at Milton Elementary School. Parents there have asked for the added position because the enrollment in the brand-new all-day program exceeded projections, leaving the school’s two kindergarten teachers to handle classrooms with 30 or more 5-year-olds. A daunting task, to be sure.

The whole idea behind establishing all-day kindergarten was to ensure that our children would have strong reading skills and be ready to hit the ground running as first-graders. Previously, our district was one of a very few statewide that wasn’t offering all-day kindergarten; I believe it was overdue, and I’m glad they added it.

But, if overcrowded kindergarten classes threaten to stand in the way of the district’s overall goal for the program, I think the board is obliged to add another teacher at MES. The money appears to be there for this, and I am a staunch believer in “if you’re gonna do it, do it right.”

Waggoner even told the board at that last meeting that such a move would not adversely affect the district’s budget.

I also support the plan proposed by the board and Superintendent Marcia Haney Dunaway to replace the athletic fields at the high school.

I remember my father complaining about how sports programs often supercede academics in importance in public schools, and he was right. Sports never should be put before academics.

But, sports are an important part of education. I didn’t always believe that, but when I watched my nieces grow up and participate in volleyball, basketball and track and field, I noticed that sports gave them much-needed self-confidence. Granted, they were good athletes, and not all students who go out for sports have talent for it.

Even so, sports teach teamwork – and athletic programs are about the only avenue left in public schools providing kids regular physical activity.

Our football field is, well, horrible. It has poor drainage, very

poor lighting and the stadium is uncomfortable and really doesn’t give fans a good view of what’s going on.

Unlike most districts, our football field doesn’t include a track, which means there’s no good place for our running teams to practice. And forget about hosting meets, which is an important revenue source for sports teams.

Our baseball field doesn’t have lighting at all, and actually shares property with the football field, meaning the fields have to be converted back and forth, depending on the season. Without lighting, if the varsity team doesn’t finish its game before dark, the junior varsity team doesn’t get to play.

The baseball field, also, isn’t up to the standards that would allow our school to host tournaments. Again, a loss of revenue.

The new facilities needn’t be extravagant, merely updated and well-lighted. Good, attractive sports facilities would give students, parents, faculty, staff and the community a sense of pride. It may not translate directly to having more winning seasons, but it sure couldn’t hurt.

I applaud the district for being frugal with its money. The board is fortunate; the school tax increases every year, and with very few complaints from the taxpayers.

I am confident the board can find a good middle ground – to hold true to its commitment to providing excellent educational and athletic programs in the district without wiping out the extra funds it may need for that rainy day.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The Trimble Banner and lives in Milton. The opinion expressed in this column is her own. Agree? Disagree? Send us a letter for the Opinion Page, editor@mytrimblenews.com.