Horse trading comes full circle in Jackson school budget

fr jaxschoolsJackson County Schools brokered a sweet deal with county commissioners last year, or so it seemed at the time.

School leaders wanted to build a new gym and auditorium at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, but the $11.4 million price tag was more than county commissioners wanted to pay.


So the school system agreed to a $147,000 budget reduction for the next two years in exchange for the county funding the building plan.

Now the time of reckoning has arrived, and Jackson school leaders have to figure out how exactly they are going to cut $147,000 from their budget for the next two years.

At this point, the school system doesn’t know, said Gwen Edwards, Jackson Schools finance director.

“We have to wait and see what the state budget is going to do to us,” Edwards said.

School systems across the state are bracing for state budget cuts, although it could be summer before a clear picture emerges of what those cuts will look like. Only then can Jackson school leaders figure out where there is still some wiggle room.

Superintendent Mike Murray said he does not regret making the deal with the county. It was worth it, he said. 

Initially, the hoped-for cost of the gym and auditorium in the early planning stages was around $10.5 million. But by the time the final design was approved last fall, it clocked in at $11.4 million.

The school system also tacked on $1 million for locker rooms at Blue Ridge School in Glenville.

“We didn’t want them to be left out. Blue Ridge needed a dressing room,” said Murray.

The school system got a good deal from the county, he said, despite now being on the prowl to trim $147,000 from its budget.

 “Ultimately, I am getting $12.6 million in building projects, and it is costing us $147,000 for two years,” Murray said.

The $147,000 will come from somewhere on the operations side, Edwards said.

The school system only gets $235,000 from the county for maintenance and repairs, and it can’t come out of that, said Jay Grissom, director of school system operations.

Between warped carpet in Kindergarten classrooms, air conditioning repairs at Blue Ridge School, a moisture problem at Scotts Creek Elementary auditorium, and compromised football bleachers, the maintenance budget is nearly all spoken for, Grissom said.

And it can’t come out of a $400,000 line item for technology, according to David Proffitt, school technology director. That is barely enough as it is to pay software license fees, replace things like file servers and network switches, run new cable and constantly repair the digital infrastructure backbone — not to mention buying computer devices for the student body, Proffitt said.

So that leaves the operations side, Edwards said. Jackson Schools get $6.7 million in operating funds from the county to supplement state operating dollars.

The new Smoky Mountain High gym will seat 1,500, and the auditorium will seat 750. The high school currently lacks a proper performing arts venue. Band, choral and theater students stage productions off campus in the auditoriums at Southwestern Community College or Western Carolina University.

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