Oneida Schools Request Bus from County

Huntsville, TN (2017-05-15) The administration of the Oneida Special School District has formally requested the county consider providing the system a new school bus once every five years.

Dr. Jeanny Hatfield, Director of the Oneida Special School District, addressed the Scott County Board of County Commissioners Monday night, asking the body to consider providing funding for a new school bus for the district once every five years.  “I would not come to you unless this was an actual need,” Hatfield said.  While Hatfield broached the subject Monday night, her request was actually for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Currently, the Oneida School System has four, 60-passenger buses and one, 12-passenger bus.  Of those, at least one is on borrowed time.  “We’ve received waiver upon waiver to extend (the useful life) of our buses,” commented Hatfield.  The state reportedly gave the district another year on one of its buses just because it had spent a substantial amount of money on maintenance.  Hatfield was adamant another waiver wasn’t feasible.

Due to class sizes and the number of participants in its sports programs, the district is often forced to use more than one bus to transport students for field trips and athletic events.  “We need a larger bus,” Hatfield added.  In her pleading, Hatfield asked the county to consider buying the district an 84-passenger bus, which, in addition to hauling students back and forth to school, could be used to transport sports teams and others on long trips.  The larger bus could also ultimately reduce the district’s operational costs, as one, 84-passenger bus could be taken instead of two, 60-passenger buses on many of those out-of-county trips.  It would also help alleviate another problem, as the district, like many across the state, is having a difficult time finding bus drivers.

While the county is currently working on its 2017-2018 budget, Hatfield’s request was actually for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.  According to Hatfield, the Oneida Special School District is looking at cost cutting measures to offset recent state and federal cuts.  The district reportedly recently lost about $70,000 in federal funds, and faces further reductions from the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP).

The Oneida Special School District provides Pre-K through 12th grade instruction to about one-third of the county’s school-aged children, many of which live outside the Oneida Special School District.  Much of the funding for the school system is provided through a special school district tax that is levied on properties inside the district.  The school district is different than the boundaries of the Town of Oneida and, contrary to public opinion, the Town of Oneida does not provide funding for the district.  In addition to funds raised through the special tax, the district also receives a pro-rated share (~33%) of fifty-percent of the local option sales tax (2.25%).  Landowners inside the district also pay the Oneida Public Debt tax, which was money pledged to rebuild the system’s dilapidated buildings back in the 1990s.

Currently, the county funds the purchase of an average of two new buses each year for the Scott County School system.  Those buses are purchased through a special capital budget set aside for one-time purchases and improvements.  Funding for the county school’s capital budget is provided through the county’s rural debt service fund, which is tax revenue collected from every parcel outside the Oneida Special School District.  The county school system operates a fleet of more than 40 buses.

If the county agrees to purchase a bus every five years for the Oneida Schools, funding for the purchase would be complex.  Money would have to come from the county’s General Purpose School Debt fund, which would require an equitable division of revenue between the two systems.  Thus, if the county purchased one bus for Oneida at an estimated $100,000, then the county school system would be entitled to its average-daily-attendance (ADA) share (~66%); meaning the county schools would receive about $200,000 in additional funds.  Provided those funds are set aside in a capital budget, then the obligation would end there.  However, should the $200,000 be used for operational expenses for the county schools, then the state’s maintenance of effort rule would be invoked; meaning the county would have to continue to provide the additional $200,000 per year every year thereafter.

If the $200,000 allocated to the county schools was set aside in a capital budget, then it could likewise be used to purchase buses for the district.  However, the shift would still result in a $200,000 increase in funding for the county schools, unless the budget committee stripped an equitable amount from the rural debt service levy.  In that case, the reallocation would result in a disproportionate tax increase for property owners inside the Oneida Special School District; meaning those inside the district would indirectly still be paying for the bus.

At the end of the day, the request was about providing transportation for students, whether they live inside or outside the district.  “These are our kids,” Hatfield asserted.