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Tuesday, January 01, 2019 02:50 PM

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Knox County School Board Passes 2019 Controversial Budget

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Knox County School Board met Monday, April 30, and approved a controversial budget for the 2019 year that spurred protests after initially proposing cuts to magnet school and Project GRAD funding. The vote was previously postponed to April 30 after the board met on April 11.

A Knox County Schools spokesperson said at 5:10 p.m. Monday that the Knox County Finance Committee would meet with schools' Superintendent Bob Thomas and senior staff to "discuss the FY19 school budget" on Thursday, May 3, at 3 p.m. at the City County Building. That scheduling was released to media before a vote was taken Monday.

During the meeting, a board member made a motion to pass a $490,239,000 budget, which would restore funding to all magnet school programs and Project GRAD, and which would include a 2 percent raise for teachers. That motion failed with a 6-3 vote.

The original preliminary budget included eliminating spending on all magnet schools in the district, cutting magnet programs from Green Magnet and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy, and cutting the Project GRAD program completely.

However, Project GRAD was allocated $500,000 in funding after a request by Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, led to a revised Knox County Schools budget with almost $2 million more in funding that originally calculated.

The Tennessee Department of Education revisited the state's Basic Education Program, or BEP, projection at the request of Rep. Smith. The projection fell short of the actual estimated BEP, increasing it by $1.9 million from $217.1 million to $219,095,000 for fiscal year 2019. However, the money Knox County sets aside in the schools general purpose fund will be $516,000 less than initially estimated, so the total increase to school funding will be $1.4 million.

The new budget proposal released on Wednesday, April 25, would fund $500,000 of the $700,000 requested backing for the Project GRAD high school program. It also would provide $270,000 to provide three educational assistants at each of the three elementary priority schools.

It also would set aside $160,000 for magnet programs, so Green Magnet and Sarah Moore Green Magnet Academy can submit proposals for consideration. The new budget will also pay for 10 existing gifted and talented coaches to serve advanced students.

Finally, it will provide $330,000 to ensure all buses carrying students ages six weeks through pre-kindergarten would have adult monitors on them. An additional $170,000 will be placed in a reserve fund to cover any additional costs associated with the new state rules regarding student transportation.

The April 11 meeting followed a work session in which hundreds of community members turned out to protest the proposed cuts, staging demonstrations with signs that featured messages like, "Embrace / Educate / Encourage." So many people turned out for initial the meeting that after all seats were filled in the Main Assembly Room of the City-County Building, crowds amassed outside to share their voices.

After Monday's vote, Knox County School Board member Lynne Fugate told WVLT that Superintendent Bob Thomas could have held a meeting for public input at any time during the formation of the budget proposal. However, Fugate said Thomas chose not to do so.