County officials are concerned about a resolution drafted by the School Board requesting state lawmakers to allow the Warren County School System to opt out of 81 Act legislation adopted by the County Commission in June.
The County Financial Management Act of 1981 gave counties the power to set up a centralized purchasing department, bringing the highway department, the school system and county government under the auspices of a seven-member purchasing committee.
The county’s action did not sit well with the School Board, which is reluctant to lose its purchasing autonomy.
Although county officials say they have been considering adopting the 81 Act for some time, with the encouragement of state auditors and state legislators, there was some speculation the School Board’s choice of land for the new Morrison school and contracting Durham School Services to take over the school’s transportation system, both of which were vocally opposed by the majority of county commissioners, had something to do with the county’s decision to approve the new purchasing system.
At a recent meeting of the county’s Education Committee, attended by Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale and County Executive John Pelham, the committee chairman, Terry Bell, expressed his concern about the School Board’s action and the possible consequences.
Bell reported that during a recent visit to Franklin County, which adopted the act in 2002, their officials noted the county has experienced no major problems.
“They seemed to think it was working pretty good for them,” Bell said, asking Hale if he wanted to comment on his impressions.
“Well they said they’ve gone through their eight or ninth year with it,” Hale said. “And they had pretty well gotten a lot of the kinks out of it and it seemed to be working for them.”
“I kind of brought that up because the School Board is asking the General Assembly to let them opt out,” Bell said. “And I just wanted to know what the committee’s feelings are on that.”
Committee member Joel Akers said he felt everyone should work together to make the system work.
“My feeling is I would like to see the School Board at least give it a chance here for a year or two,” Akers said. “Of course I figured they would more than likely want to opt out, but just because there’s a change coming down the road doesn’t mean it’s a bad change. That’s my thoughts.”
“I’ll tell you my feelings on it,” Bell said. “I’d love this committee to draft one asking that we just be given the chance to implement it.”
While Bell and committee members were under the impression the resolution would be presented directly to our state legislators, Hale said that was not the case.
“Typically when the board passes something like this, like they have in past years, they send it to the TSBA (Tennessee School Board Association) and they have at their convention in November a delegate assembly where they vote on what’s going to become legislation that TSBA is going to sponsor. Like last year their biggest thing was to do away with negotiations. I don’t know this, since I’m not on the board and I’m not a member, but that’s probably the process they’ll use. It’ll go to the delegate assembly and if it’s voted in then it’ll become part of the TSBA’s legislative package.”
“Then you’re not going to ask our legislators to create a private act to get you out?” Bell asked.
“That’s not in the resolution,” Hale said.
“You’d have to change the law statewide,” said Pelham.
Hale said the state’s education commissioner would have make any decision on whether to pull the system out.
“The law, as it says now I believe, is that the commissioner can take the school system out,” Hale said. “Based on certain things.”
Pelham addressed that.
“The code actually states that if the county is not performing its duties adequately from a bookkeeping standpoint, or not keeping adequate records, then the commissioner of education can request the school system be pulled out.”
“I thought you were trying to get one of our legislators to create a private act to get you out,” Bell said.
“I haven’t heard that,” said Hale.