Loudon County Board of Education traveled to Gatlinburg over the weekend for its yearly planning session to consider specific needs at each school and how members could better understand items related to managing the district.

Board members listened to school administrators on short- and long-term needs in the classroom, including more technology, and discussed the 2018-19 fiscal year budget. No action was taken.

“It’s important for the board to consider a number of items this time of year. However, the most important item for them to consider is always the budget,” Jason Vance, director of schools, said. “This planning session gives the board time to reflect on items that are important to continue to support our students, teachers and the community as a whole.”

The budget as presented included an unaudited fund balance of about $3.6 million and a roughly $2.8 million net loss. Vance believes some money from the current year will roll over to the new fiscal year.

“While I’m saying we’ll start the year at $3.6 (million), it’s really going to be closer to $5 million,” Vance said.

Since the 2012-13 fiscal year, the ending fund balance has gradually decreased from $8.1 million.

“We’ve done a lot out of that fund balance to improve our campuses and give these kids some things that they need, and so we’ve done some improvements on athletics facilities, of course,” Scott Newman, board member, said. “I mean there’s nothing extravagant about what we’re doing. We’re doing things these kids — instead of mommas and daddies having to go out here and do fundraisers to have bleachers, we’ll put bleachers in there. But yeah, it comes a time we’re getting to the point that we’re going to either have to back up or move forward.”

Board members used the retreat to provide an annual evaluation for Vance. The director of schools received a 3.55 out of 4, which is down from the past two years of 3.69 and 3.76, respectively.

“It was very positive,” Newman said of the retreat. “Sometimes we get in there and we start talking about some of the things that we’re going to have to go through, but it was more of a success-type meeting. ‘This is what we’ve had success in’.”

Although a final tally could not be determined by News-Herald presstime, Vance estimated the trip cost about $9,000-$10,000. He said it would be “commensurate” to last year’s retreat.

Some residents have asked for the board to bring the planning session back locally to save costs and allow more public attendance, noting The Venue at Lenoir City as an option.

If that were to happen, board member Gary Ubben said he would favor Loudon County Technology Center instead.

“My feeling because we’ve got a nice facility there at the tech center that we have used in the past, that’s free for us,” Ubben said. “We’d have to pay for The Venue if we went there, and I see no reason for us to use that facility. ... We’ve got adequate facilities of our own that would not cost anything.”

Vance said the board considered The Venue this year, but it was unavailable when it wanted to host its planning session.

“I’m sure they will consider that as an option for the upcoming year, however, I’m not sure I’ll know where they want to host the meeting until closer to that time frame,” Vance said.

Safety a focus

Board members again focused on safety in schools and spoke to Loudon County Sheriff’s Office in a closed session.

“There were several good ideas bounced around between the board and (Deputy) Chief (Jimmy) Davis from the sheriff’s department on some things that we could improve on and that is hopefully being taken care of,” Kenny Ridings, board member, said. “... The big topic for me was safety.”

One item Vance said he hopes to consider soon is safety training for administrators over the summer so that they can bring what they learn back to school in August.

Vance is considering an active drill with emergency responders during an in-service day.

“Again, the emergency responders are still kicking it around amongst themselves, but what I’d like to see is us pick a school and have all of our teachers there and have all our administrators there in the whole county when our students are not there, obviously, and it would be appropriate to do it with kids but I’d like to do with teachers first, that way we can see where we’re strong and where we need to improve upon,” Vance said. “Then have our emergency responders critique us and help us understand where we’re strong and where we’re at a deficit.”

Vance said safety is always discussed.

“Every time we have a board planning session they always want to make sure they invite the sheriff’s department about what we’re doing as compared to what we need to be doing,” Vance said. “... We always try to review plans and make sure that we’ve got things up to date.”

Projects considered

Among the ideas tossed around during the planning session was enclosing the walkway leading to the cafeteria and gymnasium at Steekee Elementary School.

“As of right now the kids have to go out of the building into the cafeteria, or out and down, and then they go out (and) they go out to the gym,” Newman said. “It’s a safety issue, especially at that place.”

The project was well received by board members, but definitive numbers on cost were not presented, Newman said.

Hopes are funding will come out of Adequate Facilities Tax Fund 177, Vance said.

“It’ll just have to see what the prices comes in,” Newman said. “We’ll have to look at the — I think Jason was going to talk to some architects and get a roundabout figure before we go forward. You know as well as I do if we start getting studies for it then they’ll have to start paying these architects. We’re not paying anybody yet to do it. ... I think everybody’s on the same page when it comes to safety because everybody wants to make sure our kids are safe and so that’s a big thing. That’s the one thing we always agree on is the safety of our kids.”

Board members also talked about complete roof repair at Eaton Elementary and North Middle schools, along with sectional repairs at Steekee Elementary and Loudon High schools, Vance said.

“Some roofs were put on about 10 years ago and there was a 10-year warranty,” Ubben said. “Those warranties are running out right at this particular point. We wish we would have staggered them out a little better so they didn’t all hit at the same time.”

Similar to the SES walkway enclosure project, Vance said the board would look to Adequate Facilities Tax.

“We did them all in one year and now they’re all due,” Newman said. “You look at them there’s about 10 to 20 years is all you’re going to get out of them, about 10 years is all you’re going to get out of a roof.”

Policies updated

Most policy discussions focused on updating language provided by the Tennessee School Boards Association. Of 12 policies considered, two policies — Opioid Antagonist and Alternative School Programs — were new.

The board will have a first reading vote at the April meeting, but Vance said members could consider passing the Opioid Antagonist policy.

Per the policy, the district shall have an opioid antagonist in at least two unlocked, secure locations to be administered to students believed to be having a drug overdose.

“There’s just a lot of issues that the school board’s not comfortable with from a liability point of view as far as our school nurses administering that medicine,” Vance said. “If we had a person OD they’re probably not going to OD while they’re at school, they’re probably going to OD before they get there. It wouldn’t necessarily be a school issue per se, but if it did become a school issue we’d obviously contact emergency responders (and have them) come out and try to support us as quickly as we could.”

The Alternative School Programs policy regards students in grades 7-12 who have been suspended or expelled from regular programs.