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Prater asks if stimulus funds can be used to pay off school debt
Gary Prater

Pay off existing debt – that was the recommendation from one commissioner on how Warren County Schools can ease concerns of a potential budget shortfall. 

“On the $900,000 or something that we borrowed for ESG to upgrade HVAC systems and things like that, can that be paid off through this federal money?” asked Commissioner Gary Prater. “It needs to be looked at.” 

The suggestion came during Monday night’s meeting of the full Warren County Commission following a presentation by Director of Schools Grant Swallows on how the school system plans to spend $8.3 million from the state and financial concerns created by decreased enrollment for school year 2021-22.

“That’s a great question,” said Swallows. “We could ask for reimbursement on that. As you know, there are restrictions on the federal money coming. We will look into it and see if we can relieve that debt. If we can pay off this debt with that, we would certainly be interested in doing that.”

Among the projects planned for the $8.3 million is purchase of new Chromebooks, renewed programs, construction projects, and upgrades.

“We are going to take on some building projects to update our buildings to get them in good shape and also update HVAC systems, windows, roofs and things that would normally have to come out of a bond or come out of the county budget,” said Swallows. “With that being said, we’ve talked about this before, the concern is that we are about 200 students less this year than we were last year at this time. As you all know, the state funds us through the BEP formula based on student enrollment and average daily membership.”

The Tennessee General Assembly is consideration a Hold Harmless Bill pertaining to BEP funding. If approved it will guarantee each school district will not be penalized financially if the pandemic creates a negative impact on student enrollment. 

“We have asked our state legislatures in the General Assembly to move on a Hold Harmless Bill,” said Swallows. “That’s still being discussed. At the end of the day, we are not going to be able to sit around and wait for them to make a decision on that. We are trying to make sure we are ready for a budget shortfall.”

A hiring freeze is under consideration. 

“We cannot pay salaries out of this one-time federal money,” said Swallows. “So, we are going to try to address this by attrition, which means if someone retires or leaves the district we are going to be very, very smart on replacing that position and only replace those positions that must be replaced by enrollment figures and the like. I want the County Commission to know that we are working on that so we don’t have to ask for more money.” 

Approved by Warren County Commission in November were bonuses of $750 for full-time and $375 for part-time school system employees. 

During that request, Swallows was questioned about a potential financial shortfall and assured commissioners the school system would not seek additional funds from the county.