In an effort to deflect ongoing criticism and debate regarding West Knox County's overcrowded schools, County Mayor Ragsdale has attempted to blame the State's funding formula for the County's failure to fully fund the local school system.  Virtually every Knox County School on the West side of the county, including elementary, middle, and high schools is overcrowded, requiring the positioning and planned positioning of temporary classrooms (trailers) at schools which are less than 5 years old or have completed renovations which are less than 5 years old.   In a campaign themed letter, placed nicely on page G 1 of the February  5, Sunday Knoxville News-Sentinel, Ragsdale writes that the State's BEP formula creates inequalities for children in the Knox County School System to the tune of $800 per child.  While Mayor Ragsdale correctly notes that the BEP formula is established such that the state provides an equal dollar amount in funding per pupil, regardless of which county where they are enrolled, Mayor Ragsdale curiously fails to note that the BEP funding formula contains a state share and a local share, which is provided by the home county for its own school system.  The equalization formula considers 45 seperate criteria, primarily driven by the number of students in the county pubic school system, property values, sales tax revenue, which are then plowed into an equalization formula to determine the appropriate state and local component of the BEP, which is established to fund the basic level for education of Tennessee students.  The state's formula contemplates that local county governments realize and recognize their primary duties in their existence are to educate their youth and provide law enforcement and maintain a civilized society within their local boundaries.

A quick review of the the county's local budget offers glaring indicators of why the local school children are being shortchanged on the local funding component of the BEP, resulting in a multitude of educational issues, primarily overcrowded schools on the West side of the county and an abandonment of the system by up and coming younger teachers, who can boost their income by $10,000 - $15,000 by hopping into the Blount County, Alcoa, Maryville, or Oak Ridge School Systems.  Under Mayor Ragsdale's direction, in 2006 the county will deliver $2,570,000 to the "Great Schools Partnership" which is a fund dedicated to implement a preschool to kindergarten program.  Those individuals overseeing the "Great Schools Partnership" are all employed by the public or the not for profit sector and the roster of "Trustees" does not include any individuals from the business community or the for profit business community.  As last year the county tossed $1,000,000 into the "Great Schools Partnership", these funds which could be used to better meet the local share of the BEP are being warehoused for a beaurocratic program designed for preschoolers, not the children who are already enrolled in the system in need of additional resources to enhance the existing academic or art programs.  The budget also contains a veritable dukes mixture of hand outs to virtually every not for profit or charitable entity within the borders of Knox County to the tune of $2,832,470, all of which could have been applied to the local component of the BEP.  At the forefront of the "Community Grant Funding" is $400,000 to the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, $90,000 to the East Tennessee Television and Film Commission (which has offices and email addresses within the Knox County Chamber of Commerce), $50,000 for the East Tennessee History Center, $30,000 for the East Tennessee History Society, $200,000 for the East Tennessee Public Communications Corporation, $25,000 for the Knoxville Museum of Art, $43,000 for the Knoxville Open golf tournament, $25,000 for the Knoxville Symphony Society, $70,000 for Race Relations of East Tennessee, $150,000 for the Southeast Community Capital Corporation (which has no offices in Knox County, but is located in Oak Ridge, with offices also in Nashville and Memphis) $50,000 for the Tennessee Conference Community Development, Inc. and $100,000 for the YMCA Charles Warner Cansler Branch (wherever that is).

Most disturbing of all is the County's funding of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame to the tune of $150,000 per year (for which no attendance figures are available or released), funding the Development Corporation to the tune of $1,066,750 (despite there being no land to acquire), another $140,000 for the Knox Area Chamber Partnership, and $1,878,750 for the Tourism and Sports Development Corporation.

When you take $6 - $7 million from the taxpayers and plow it in to dubious projects, political entities, and charitable and not for profit entities, it is readily apparent why the local share of the BEP is not being met by Knox County.  When local charities and not for profit organizations are funded by the taxpayers, they are part of the county government, they are not a part of the charitable fabric most communities cherish and support.  The State's BEP formula does not comtemplate Knox County (as well as other metropolitan school districts) throwing money around on projects which should be reserved or left for the private sector and on curious political entities and political payrolls which serve no valid educational purpose.  For far too long it has been the policy of the local government to blame Nashville or to blame the State of Tennessee for our own shortcomings and our spendthrift habits on everything but our children's education.

Johnny Ringo's picture

$2 mil vs. $40 mil

Do the math. Assuming Ragsdale's figures are correct on the BEP inequities (and you don't challenge them, so I'll assume they are correct), $800 per child x (approx) 52,000 children that attend the Knox County school system = $41,600,000 that Knox County is being shorted by the state's funding system.

Against that kind of money, the $6 or 7 million is fairly small change, and its only a dead loss if you assume that all of that money is wasted. Is money for the East Tennessee Historical Society, the KMA and the Symphony wasted?

And where do those monies come from? The county funds many of the organizations you cite with hotel-motel tax revenues, which could not be spent on the school system by state law.

You can quibble all day with the county's funding priorities, but it does seem fairly clear that the county comes out on the short end of the stick when it comes to BEP funding. Since the State ultimately gets all of its revenues from localities, an interesting question might be: does Knox County contribute more to the State than it gets back in state revenues? I suspect the answer is a resounding "yes."

lj's picture

Must read article from Fox

Must read article from Fox News on Zacarias Moussaoui:,2933,183910,00.html
Neyland Patriot's picture

If the funding formula is so

If the funding formula is so disparaging, why doesn't Knox County go ahead and file suit against the State to halt the discriminatory impact against children living in Knox County.  If it is truly inequitable, don't just sit there Mr. Mayor, do something besides complain.  I suspect that the Mayor knows the funding formula is not truly unfair, but Knox County has not marshalled its assets and capitalized on its resources, continuing to bicker and rag with the City of Knoxville and the Town of Farragut, throwing money into every political corner, all to the detriment of its public education funding which is job one of the county government.

Knox County is also paying a very high price for building a local economy based on government funded jobs and not for profit jobs (which may actually be funded by the local government) as those types of employments don't make anything which is taxable, they don't sell anything which supports collection of a sales tax and their physical offices and buildings are immune from a  property tax, all of which are calculated into the BEP funding formula, which seems to work well in most parts of the State of Tennessee, except in the four major (that's debatable) counties which throw money around on all sorts of different things.

R. Neal's picture

Knox County is also paying a

Knox County is also paying a very high price for building a local economy based on government funded jobs and not for profit jobs (which may actually be funded by the local government) as those types of employments don't make anything which is taxable, they don't sell anything which supports collection of a sales tax and their physical offices and buildings are immune from a  property tax,

Very well put. I thought I was the only one who noticed our local economy is too dependent on government jobs. I couldn't, however, articulate very well why this is a problem. I think you have summed it up nicely.

I don't now how all of this affects the BEP, because I have just started looking at it and it is a Byzantine maze of incredibly complicated formulas and regulations that I'm not sure I could ever figure out.

Grant Rosenberg's picture


FULL DISCLOSURE: I work for Knox County Mayor Ragsdale, and while I have never posted on this forum, I feel that there is some info I can provide to continue this discussion. I will do my best to answer some questions, however I am not the spokesperson for Knox County, so please be easy on me... : )

Some thoughts:

A lawsuit by a local government is not always the most appropriate form of persuasion. That's why Ragsdale has assembled the other large metro mayors (Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton) to lobby the State for a more equitable, fair formula.

As far as local participation, next to Davidson Co, Knox County contributes more money (% of local revenue) to education than any other county in the state. (of 95 counties)

As far as state funding it receives, next to Hamilton Co, Knox County is second to last in the state. 

When is Ragsdale bickering with the City of Knoxville or town of farragut? Rarely. In fact, this is an issue that everyone in Knox County has agreed on and is working together to correct.

How many additional Knox County jobs has Ragsdale created? Zero. Knox County has over 100 FEWER employees than it had four years ago. UT, ORNL, Y-12, TVA, and the other govt. agencies employ a lot of people. So, I wouldn't blame the current administrations for "building" our local economy on non-profit, govt. jobs.

Grant Rosenberg



Midori Barstow's picture

Running Schools the Canadian Way

Running Schools the Canadian Way

Get ready for some new education-reform buzzwords: “the Edmonton model.” What is it? It’s a radical, bottom-up way of running schools, where principals are given say over 95 percent of their budget allocation and told to find the most effective and efficient ways of spending it. If it’s cheaper to spend money on outside vendors rather than with the school system, then that’s what they’re supposed to do. One city that’s taking a close look at this approach is Washington, D.C.

Background: It’s called the Edmonton model because this is the way schools are run in Edmonton, Alberta. It’s generating a lot of buzz because a management professor at UCLA, William Ouchi, wrote a book proclaiming it the most effective way to run schools. (If Ouchi’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because of his book in the early 1980s, “Theory Z.” For a while, the book about how to adapt Japanese management techniques to American companies was required reading for corporate executives.)

Conservative education theorists applaud the Edmonton model. School systems “should measure results, not dictate how to achieve them,” Diane Ravitch told a columnist for the New York Post. “The people who are closest to the kids should have room to make decisions and be held accountable.” Now the idea is spreading to the systems themselves. One who’s a fan of the Edmonton approach is Washington Superintendent Clifford B. Janey.

Janey has already tried it in one high school. In return for the school not becoming a charter school and withdrawing from the school system, he gave the principal broad authority to make spending decisions. So far, outside observers are supportive of this radical approach to school management. “This makes the schools more responsive,” an official with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs told the Washington Post. “You won’t have the same finger-pointing you do now.” Even the teachers’ union is generally in favor, although one official said it was important that principals and others in schools be trained in deciding things that were once handled downtown. “There needs to be [an] emphasis on making quality local school decisions,” he told the Post.

Janey has other ideas for shaking up Washington’s schools: He wants to make them into community centers as well as schools by offering services to adults in the neighborhood. This is called the “community school” or “full-service school” approach, and it’s used in a few schools around the country. In Boston, for instance, there are schools that run neighborhood health clinics and sponsor YMCAs. In Chicago, a school runs a student-managed bank for residents. And in Washington, an elementary school provides parenting education, health-care services and dance and music classes for adults.

How does this help the schools? As an official at a company that partners with the Washington school told the Post, “We’ve definitely seen an increase in test scores at the school, and we’re seeing the school become a magnet with more students trying to go there.” She agreed with the superintendent that other schools should try it. “There are a lot of benefits to the community, children and parents,” she said.


R. Neal's picture

Old Hickory, this is an

Old Hickory, this is an interesting analysis of the BEP problem. Don't know about the local funding issues, I'll have to study that some more.

In regard to this:

abandonment of the system by up and coming younger teachers, who can boost their income by $10,000 - $15,000 by hopping into the Blount County, Alcoa, Maryville, or Oak Ridge School Systems.

I always assumed this to be the case, too. But looking at the latest BEP annual report (which recommends including a teacher salary component in the formula, which it curiously does not currently have) they have done a study of teacher's salaries in all 95 Tennessee counties. Here are some of the findings for weighted average salary for 2005 (first figure) and total compensation including insurance benefits for 2005 (second figure):

  • Anderson: $38,112 - $42,700
  • Oak Ridge: $46,988 - $52,644
  • Blount: $40,407 - $46,316
  • Alcoa: $44,462 - $50,704
  • Maryville: $44,958 - $49,292
  • Knox: $40,345 - $44,859

So overall, there is disparity and Knox County is on the low end, but it's not really a $10K - $15K disparity, especially not for Blount Co. It is interesting, though, how the city run school systems have significantly better pay than the county systems.

Johnny Ringo's picture

City vs. County

That may be explainable by the fact that the highest-value properties tend to be within city boundaries. Cities have the option to annex properties that generate large amounts of sales-tax revenues (as the city of Knoxville did aggressively while Victor was Mayor), and those properties, along with high-rent office properties which tend to be clustered downtown, can give a city tax revenues disproportionate to their school-age population, which may be more concentrated in the lower-value more rural unincorporated areas of the county. Higher revenues and lower number of required teachers = higher teacher salaries.

Just a theory.

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