BOE Cost Analysis Report available for public view: budget, salaries and possible closure of Keplar and McPheeter’s Bend

When the BOE voted last year not to house fourth and fifth grades at Keplar Elementary School, they received a lot of public backlash. The BOE later reversed their decision and kept those two grades at Keplar for the 2019-2020 year.

The Hawkins Board of Education has cancelled their April 2 special-called meeting, during which the board was set to present the cost-analysis study, due to COVID-19 developments.

The system-wide cost analysis study looked into all operational costs including facilities cost, personnel cost, per-pupil expenditure and was intended to help the district find ways to save money.

The results of the survey could determine the fate of the county’s two smallest schools, Keplar and McPheeter’s Bend elementary schools, which have been on the chopping block since 2015 when talks of shutting them down first began.

Though the meeting has been cancelled, the survey is now available on the Hawkins Co. Schools’ website for anyone to view. Director of Schools Matt Hixson also wishes to assure the public that “the decision to take any action regarding any of our school sites, will only be made after we can safely gather and allow for public input.”

In fact, Hixson released the following statement on March 24:

“Many are aware the Hawkins County Board of Education sought guidance from an outside agency to analyze our school system’s budget. This study was performed over the course of several months. After receiving the report, the BOE posted the report to our website for the public to review. The study looks at all expenditures the school system incurs annually and identifies methods school systems across the state enlist to reduce expenses.

During this past year as Director of Schools here in Hawkins County, I can honestly say that our Board has diligently sought to accept all viewpoints, opinions, and suggestions related to student achievement, safety, and success. Of these priorities, none outweigh the need to protect our students and to provide for their well-being. To this end, the decision to take any action regarding any of our school sites, will only be made after we can safely gather and allow for public input. Our focus has been and will remain to be squarely centered on student safety. Student safety and equal access to available resources will continue to drive all decisions our Board makes. This Board has been very diligent in seeking impartial information, weighing options, and considering the well-being of every student across the entire county, especially during this crisis.

We must all focus on doing what we can do to remain healthy, keep our students safe, and help one another during this time. The cost analysis report, any recommendations, and actions can and should wait. When it is deemed safe to allow such a public forum needed to view and discuss this report and any subsequent actions, we will release the timeline well ahead of time.”

The survey specifies that it does not contain recommendations or conclusions and is “submitted without biases.”

Study finds that HCSD has “uncompetitive salaries”

One of the notable findings within the study states that “The Hawkins County School District (HCSD) is losing teachers due to an uncompetitive salary schedule.”

In fact, the study reports that, of all contiguous school districts, Hawkins teachers’ salaries consistently surpass Claiborne County but are lower than that of the following districts: Grainger, Hamblen, Greene, Greeneville City, Sullivan, Bristol City, Johnson City Kingsport City, Washington, and Rogersville City.

“The Hawkins County school district routinely loses teachers to other county school districts due to an increase in pay,” reads the report.

HCSD had 39 resignations at the end of the 2019 school year, and 20 of those were considered “Level 4 or 5” on the teacher evaluation system. They had 32 resignations at the end of 2018, with 19 of them being ranked “Level 4 or 5.”

“Teachers that have achieved a Level 4 or 5 status are considered master teachers, and master teachers have the greatest effect on students’ achievement and growth scores,” reads the report. “If the current trend of losing twenty to thirty teachers with the majority of those teachers resigning being the best in the school district, student scores will not increase.”

“Good stewards of the budget”

“The director of schools and the school board are to be commended for maintaining a quality teaching and learning environment and for being good stewards of the budget,” the report reads.

It also noted a trend developing the last and current budget years: the unassigned fund balance has been reduced without violating the required 3% rule that has been mandated by the Tennessee State Department of Education.

“A school district should avoid utilizing their unassigned fund balance for recurring items and only utilize their unassigned fund balance for nonrecurring items,” the report reads.

It cites the following as possible causes of this reduction: the commission recently reduced the district’s portion of the property tax by .095 pennies and the number of teachers outside the Basic Education Program (BEP).

The BEP is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools.

The study offered the following as a method to correct the problem: “School closures and the increase of the pupil/ teacher ratio will assist the school district in an immediate reduction of costs for next year and future years. The identified strategies will allow the school district to keep the integrity of the unassigned fund balance and should assist the school district in reallocating revenue to enhance the curriculum and improve the teacher salary schedule.”

Closing Keplar and McPheeters Bend will save in “staff and school operations”The report also noted that closing either or both KES or MBES could “reduce costs in staff and school operations.”

In fact, closing KES would reduce the district’s budget by $684,457.00, and closing MBES would save $639,455.00. If the district transfers teachers at the schools to other jobs (within the county), the reduction in expenditures will decrease to an estimated $400,000 at Kelpar Elementary and an estimated $400,000 at McPheeter’s Bend Elementary.

The report also noted that the Hawkins Co. Virtual Academy, which is new for the 2019-2020 school year, will likely bring in more revenue for the system, which the report estimated at $70,000.