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School growth, funding concerns committee

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 11/29/22

Tuesday’s Financial Committee meeting discussed Bedford County’s rising student population and possible solutions for new school funding.  

Commissioners Greg Vick and John …

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School growth, funding concerns committee


Tuesday’s Financial Committee meeting discussed Bedford County’s rising student population and possible solutions for new school funding.  

Commissioners Greg Vick and John Boutwell said they have been looking at student capacity under the TASSR (Tennessee Association for Student Success and Retention) formula, TISA [Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement], and overall growth and how this is going to affect the county.  

“This is going to get really complicated over the next few months. It’s our job to fund the schools, to fund education,” said Vick.  

Population statistics  

Boutwell, who used to sit on the school board, provided a few statistics illustrating the county’s growth. For instance, Bedford County in 1830, which encompassed more territory, had 30,000 people. Through population stagnation and decline, Bedford’s population didn’t get back to 30,000 until 1990.  

“But from 1990 to 2020, we’ve picked up 20,000 people,” Boutwell explained.  

Looking at the student population, there were 7,866 students in 2010; today, Bedford has over 9,000 students. Boutwell said 17.5% of the population are students in the Bedford County School System as of 2010 and 2022.  

“The University of Tennessee projects of 2020 to 2030, we’re going to pick up roughly about 5,500, maybe 5,800, people. And that’s going to result in 997 more students,” said Boutwell.  

In another 10 years, that number will also be over 900 new students. Therefore, in the next 18 years, there will be 1,900 new students. This is compared to the years between 2010 and 2020 when Bedford picked up some 891 students.  

“And yet we still don’t have everyone out of portables,” said Boutwell. “So, we’re not building buildings or classrooms as fast as they’re coming.”  

TISA funding Since the new TISA funding formula is “student based”, Bedford is expected to receive an extra $11 million a year due to its ratio of English language learners, low-income, and special needs students.  

Mayor Chad Graham said, “The formula is talking about per pupil spending. That doesn’t have anything to do with spending for bricks-and-mortar... That’s a whole other bucket of money.”  

This is especially concerning as the cost of materials continues to rise. “You can imagine if we don’t get out in front of this...we may not pay it today, but we’ll pay four times as much five years from now,” said Graham.  

“We just need economic development to help pay for this instead of raising taxes,” Boutwell added.  

“You can’t tax yourself out of this,” said Graham. 

“All this comes into play about zoning, about the conversation we had about building schools, about education, about housing,” said Vick. “The higher-income families require less educational spending for the higher return in investment. Conversely, the lower income require more spending. So, we have got to figure out how we can reach this medium without sliding backwards...”  

Graham added, “Part of the reason $11 million is a number that’s looking like it’s for Bedford is under this new formula, they’re giving you more money, but they’re going to require a resource in that classroom that maybe we’ve not done.”  

Vick added there’s going to be a lot of money coming to the county when the general session starts meeting but they’re going to audit every bit of the funds to make sure the funds are being used appropriately.  

For example, a possible concerning scenario could be if two schools had to share a nurse due to staffing issues, they would still be required by the formula to hire a nurse for each school. If not, then the county won’t pass their audit.  

Additionally, the needs on the staffing side are also unknown. Boutwell added that 85% of the cost to run schools day-to-day goes to labor. Salary-wise, compared to other counties in the South-Central district, Bedford is paying in the “middle.”  

Looking at the statistics, Boutwell said, “There’s probably about three or four other school districts in the state that have less staff per student than we do. And there are 142 school districts that are supported by counties.”  

Change in minimum  

Bedford County is in the South-Central district, which includes counties like Murray, Coffee, Hickman, Lewis, Wayne, Perry, Franklin.  

Boutwell explained that the State of Tennessee comes up with a minimum percentage of funds for counties to commit to education. “But most counties go way over that number,” he said. 

The state was requiring local governments give 34% to the school system. Now, they’re requiring 30%, according to Boutwell.  

“If the state hadn’t lowered it to 30, we probably would have been right at the minimum,” said Boutwell. “And I daresay since we’re right at the minimum, we’re probably one of the first counties that’s going to have to pay up something.”  

“So, when they did this new funding formula, it really wasn’t going to impact any of the counties as far as having to raise the revenue because they’re already giving way over.” Other counties in this South Central district were giving about 20% above the minimum.  

Vick said, “When we look at this new TISA funding formula, they are looking at the capacity. And there’s a formula for how much you commit.”  

He continued, “At some point, they’re going to come to us and say we’re not putting enough money toward education.”  

Mayor Graham explained, “We’re going to have no choice but to pay under this new model. My understanding is they’re going to dictate those minimums and the minimums are going to be a lot more than in the past. We just don’t know how much.”  

Boutwell and Vick said they hope to get representatives from TISA and TASSR in the next couple of weeks to help explain what solutions to take for the path forward.