Throughout this year’s budget process, many local residents and elected officials in Carter County have sought information on the financial ramifications of the state’s Basic Education Program. Based on a lengthy and complex funding formula, school administrators have been working to explain the pros and the cons of Tennessee’s BEP program.
The Tennessee Basic Education Program is a funding formula that is used to determine the amount of state dollars provided to a local school system. Developed in the early 1990’s, BEP is designed to offset a portion of the fiscal burden to local school systems. Approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law by former Governor Ned Ray McWherter, BEP was part of the Education Improvement Act of 1992. The following year, the state department of education began to use the Basic Education Program formula as its primary tool for determining the funding level for schools across the Volunteer State.
The BEP formula takes into account a local government’s revenue by calculating local sales and property taxes. Those figures are used, in part, to determine the base amount the school system uses to pay for basic educational programs.
Carter County Schools Special Education Supervisor Dr. Carol Whaley commented on the primary purpose of BEP. “The program was never designed to fully fund a school or a school system. The state defines BEP funding as the amount of money that is sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. Many people have misconstrued it to mean that it provides revenue to fully fund every program in a school system. That was never the intention,” Whaley said.
The Tennessee Department of Education uses BEP to help school systems across the state in paying salaries for teachers, school superintendents, supervisors, librarians, instructional assistants and other personnel. For the 2012-2013 academic year, the state has determined the average salary for certified instructional personnel at $39,849. The recent mandate for a 2.5 percent salary increase for teachers will be based on the state average rather than their actual pay rate.
Carter County Director of Finance Ingrid Deloach recently provided the STAR with the latest estimates for BEP allocations for 2012-2013. Broken into three major categories, which include instructional, classroom and non-classroom funding, the allocation figures provide an estimated amount of BEP from the state and local governments.
Instructional components for the BEP program are broken into several different sub-components. Using the state’s formula to determine the state and local share for funding, instructional components include principals, assistant principals for the elementary and secondary levels, system-wide instructional supervisors, special education and vocational supervisors, social workers, psychologists, special education early intervention and staff benefits. For the upcoming school year, the state has estimated the total cost of instructional BEP funding for Carter County Schools at $18,759,000. The state’s share of the cost is estimated at 81.49 percent, or $15.3 million. The county’s required share of local matching funds will total $3.4 million.
In classroom funding through the Basic Education Program, both the county and the state provide a total of $5,395,000. The State of Tennessee Department of Education allocates 85.26 percent, or $4.6 million of that sum, while Carter County provides an additional $795,000 in funding. The classroom component of BEP includes the cost of funding textbooks, classroom materials and supplies, instructional equipment, classroom related travel and technology costs. The classroom component also includes the necessary funds to offset the cost of salaries for school nurses, instructional assistants, special education assistants, substitute teachers and alternative schools.
In addition to salaries for assistants, the classroom category also includes financial support for K-12 classes that are deemed to be at-risk due to their average daily membership, or ADM. In 2011-2012, the state provided funding at a level of $509.46 per identified at-risk ADM.
A third category—non-classroom funding—sets aside another $10,359,000 to Carter County Schools. The current estimates for the upcoming year have calculated that the state will contribute $7,248,000 for the cost of non-classroom related items. Carter County will provide an additional $3.11 million to the BEP revenue pool. Non-classroom items include the cost of secretarial salaries, technology coordinators, maintenance and operations and pupil transportation.
A school system’s superintendent salary is also obtained from this component. The state’s BEP program allocates salary funding for one school superintendent per county. If there is more than one school system in a county, however, each system receives a share based on its proportion of the total average daily membership in the county and city school system.
For the upcoming school year, Carter County Schools will receive a total of $27,218,000 in state BEP funds. The state BEP allocation includes a mandatory increase of $84,000 from last school year. The county will also be asked to contribute $7,379,000 into the BEP pool. In total, Carter County’s BEP allocation for 2012-2013 is estimated at $34,513,000. Whaley noted that the average amount of BEP funding per student in Carter County equals approximately $700 per month.
According to the State of Tennessee, the primary factor in determining the total amount of funds generated by the BEP program is a school system’s total enrollment, or average daily membership. There are a total of 45 unique BEP components that are tied to the school system’s ADM. To calculate the total BEP allocation, the state‘s funding formula includes the student-to-teacher ratio, the number of assistant principals in each school and the total dollars spent for textbooks.
In the last decade, Carter County Schools have experienced a loss of 504 students attending classes at one of the 16 schools across the county. Each year since 2001, school officials have stated the system has lost an average of approximately 100 students each school year. Some of the losses in total student enrollment have been attributed to pupils enrolling in Elizabethton City Schools, while others have taken the homeschooling route. Most of the students who have left Carter County Schools, however, have left the area because their parents have been unable to find work.
Regardless of the reason, school administrators have publicly expressed that the loss of students in Carter County has equated to a reduction in state BEP funding. Combined with fewer dollars in other state and federal programs and this year’s mandated raise for teachers, the Carter County Board of Education has been forced to cut nearly $2 million from next year’s budget.
This year’s budget woes have led many in the community to question why the school system has kept a total of 59 students over the state’s BEP requirements.
During a meeting with the Carter County Commission’s Budget Committee, Carter County Interim Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward provided an explanation behind those numbers. Ward said the 59.5 teachers over state mandates is a misleading figure. “The basic formula is very complicated. For example, in the classroom, (The BEP formula) says they will fund 70 percent of a position for a certain number of teachers in K-3. Local funds 30 percent of the cost. That means we automatically have 30 percent of the cost of a teacher,” Ward said.
Ward also noted that the BEP figures include school nurses, secretaries, librarians, teachers and other school staff members. In the case of Central Elementary School, Ward added the data shows the school is over the BEP minimums by two teachers. “If you look at our schedule, our teachers and our ending enrollment, you can’t cut another teacher. For grades K-3, BEP requirements say we can have no more than 25 (students). If we have 28 in 2nd grade, we have two classes of 14 students. If we combined those students into a class of 28, the BEP formula says we must have 1.2 teachers. How am I supposed to hire a 0.2 teacher? I have to have two teachers. I have to have a full person,” Ward said.
The Basic Education Formula is also used to determine the number of nurses for the school system. Ward said the state figures show the county schools should have a total of six nurses to meet the basic requirements. Despite the state formula, he explained the system presently has ten nurses on staff. “We are four heavy because we want to cover at least every two schools with one nurse to handle of all the various health issues that students come to school with,” he said.
Over the last four years, Ward said Carter County Schools have hired a total of 120 new employees. He stated, however, that number does not provide the full story. “If we really sit down and add up our additions and our losses since 2008, we are probably at a negative 21 positions when you count 15 teachers, two supervisors, three secretaries in the central office and some other positions. Yes, we’ve hired 120 new positions, but that’s to replace people that left for many different reasons,” he commented.
Ward concluded, “If it was just a matter of cutting 50 teachers that would be the easiest way. The way it is calculated now, we send the figures to the state by computer and they send us a flag back to let us know if we are over the number of students in a certain grade level. It’s not like the old pencil and paper method of ten years ago where you could just put a number down.”