Discussing a variety of topics, including the Knox County Schools budget and Gov. Bill Lee’s new state education funding formula, Susan Horn, 5th District Board of Education representative, said there might be a new site for the planned Farragut elementary school.
Designed to alleviate long-standing overcrowding in Farragut Primary and Intermediate schools, the planned new school has a multi-acre tract along McFee Road under contract — KCS has approved purchasing the property — but the agreement has not been finalized.
“That property has its challenges, so I have suggested we look at other properties,” said Horn, whose district includes Farragut, while addressing Farragut Parent Teacher Organization members Friday, Jan. 27, in Farragut Community Center. “The problem is, there is not much available land and there are not a lot of good options.”
Other local education issues
Horn said the most recent Knox County Schools’ budget is $591 million, and 83 percent of that amount goes to fund salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and support staff.
Broken down by students, Horn said funding for Farragut students is about $8,500 each, while average funding by student in Knox County is $9,995.
State monies, along with Knox County property taxes and local sales tax, all help fund Knox County schools to varying degrees.
Since the early 1990s, Tennessee has funded education through a fairly complicated formula provided through the states’ Basic Education Program.
However, Horn said Lee has proposed a new funding plan, Tennessee Investment In Student Achievement, which will change the way schools are funded from the state and will add $1 billion to the state’s education budget over a two-year period.
“The BEP is how we have been funded since, I believe, 1993,” Horn said. “The formula has 46 different components and has been very complicated. It is something we have wanted changed for some time.”
Regarding the new TISA plan, “We will know more when Gov. Lee’s State of the State speech happens Feb. 6,” she added. “We don’t know yet what the funds will be, how much will be distributed or how.
“And, there is a lot of concern that while these funds are safe for now, we don’t know about funding in future years.”
As a school board representative, Horn said she works hard to balance the needs of the Farragut community along with district-level issues.
She has continuously advocated for more Response to Intervention positions in the schools, along with increasing the earning wages for non-teacher classified staff.
“We have to increase their pay and have got to get them a more livable wage,” Horn said to the gathering.
Absentee student issues
Among students, absenteeism continues to be an issue.
“Chronic absenteeism is crazy,” Horn said. “It was at 27 percent last year. Please, advocate with other parents the importance of students being in school.
“At Farragut Intermediate School last year, absenteeism was at 14 percent,” she added. “It used to be something like 4 percent.
“COVID and sickness certainly factors in, but kids need to be in school if they are healthy.”