Sullivan County Schools at odds with county commission over system potential closure as state funding deadline looms


SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The future of our region’s largest school system is in jeopardy.

Thursday night – Sullivan County Director of Schools Dr. David Cox sent a letter to employees saying the school budget approved by the county commission doesn’t meet state requirements that local funding per student is not less than the year before.

As a result – more than $4 million from the state per month could be withheld starting next month.

Without the money – the school system could temporarily suspend operations.

Friday afternoon – the Sullivan County Commission announced a meeting for next week to discuss the funding of the board of education.

School system leaders said they need about $800,000 to be in compliance with the maintenance of effort.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Dr. David Cox said they’re in an unusual situation that could impact all aspects of the school system.

“The significance of that $800,000 is the reimbursements given to the school system for recreation,” Dr. Cox said.

The money has to do with revenue projections, average daily attendance in schools, and how many students they could lose.

“This year is no different – we’ve used 2% for several years running,” Dr. Cox said.

Sullivan County School Board Chairman Michael Hughes said this time last year they lost 170 students, now they’ve lost more than 270 – 3% of enrollment.

The county commission funded differently.

“Our projection is based on a 1% loss. And so we funded the 1% loss,” Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Vance went on to say,”If we had submitted to the 2% reduction in ADA funding then what would have happened was it would have cost an increased cost to the county and the taxpayers to the tune of about $1.6 million and that would have probably cost the taxpayers about a 4 or 5% tax increase.”

Hughes said he brought up concerns from the start.

“The night that they voted, we felt like we didn’t meet maintenance of effort,” Hughes said.

Dr. Cox hopes for a quick resolution for the more than 9,000 students and 1,500 employees in Sullivan County Schools.

“We are going to work as hard as we can to work through this. We hope this issue gets resolved,” Dr. Cox said.

Without the state’s funding – we’re told the school system could operate for about a month before having to shut down.

Dr. Cox is concerned about the potential impact on employees, families and students. Especially students most in need.

“It’s devastating to students who depend on nutrition from our school system. Many of our students depend on the meals they get,” Dr. Cox said.

The Tennessee Department of Education released a statement to News Channel 11:

“This is a local funding issue that will need to be addressed by the county commission and the local school board. The department issues BEP funds in accordance with state law, which requires the withholding of funding beginning October 1, if the issue isn’t resolved. The department takes the withholding of funds very seriously, and it is an action we prefer not to take. We sincerely hope that local officials are able to come together to resolve this dispute and avoid a potential school closure.”

Tennessee Department of Education Spokesperson

Late Friday – we received an email sent to county commissioners by Mayor Richard Venable and Director of Accounts and Budgets Larry Bailey.

They write that the school district has a general purpose school fund of more than $17 million.

They add – in part: “If the county appropriates additional funds based on the school department’s demands it will only raise the school’s fund balance thus causing an undue burden on the county’s tax payers.”

You can read the full letter here.

Dr. Cox is urging the school community to reach out with any questions or concerns. He said there will be Frequently Asked Questions posted to their website for the school community to look at as well.

Mayor Venable said the county government hopes to have the issue resolved in the next week.

The Sullivan County Commission will hold a called meeting on Wednesday, October 2 to discuss funding of the Sullivan County Department of Education.

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