More than 28,000 students in Sumner County who have enjoyed an unexpected extra week of summer are finally getting back to school.
The Sumner County Board of Education voted Tuesday for classes to begin on Thursday. The vote approved the school calendar, not the budget.
The board's vote comes after school leaders and county commissioners held a series of meetings over the last several weeks regarding the district's funding, and the board is set to meet again Tuesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the budget.
"We have to find a long-term solution," said Schools Director Dr. Del Phillips.
Monday night, dozens of concerned parents packed a meeting where the county gave the schools an extra $800,000 from a capital fund.
School board member Ted Wise thanked the county commissioners who supported the schools.
"Forewarning to you commissioners who have not - I'm going to be in your face," he said.
Now, the school board - still in need of $2 million more - could decide on other cuts to bridge the gap.
Already, the district has identified possible staff cuts at every Sumner County school, and not everyone thinks it's a good idea to start the fall term without knowing what may have to be cut to make up the budget shortfall.
"I, personally, cannot support this - doing this tonight, and starting schools - without knowing that we aren't going to have to cut any teachers," said school board member Shannon Dunn.
But keeping classrooms empty longer would mean students have less time to prepare for TCAP tests and would involve rearranging the school calendar so that exams are held after Christmas break.
The decision to open schools without a budget is not sitting well with everyone.
"It's ridiculous. We have to sit in schools next week for the first week of school and tell teachers who have worked their tails off to make our kids better, we're going to have to tell them they've lost their job for no reason other than we have 16 county commissioners whose ego stands in the way of doing the right thing," said White House Asst. Middle School Principal Scott Langford.
Phillips says between now and Tuesday, district staff will work on a plan to figure out how many jobs might be cut and where.
When asked if teachers' jobs will be protected, Phillips said, "No, I can't say that."
The school board meets again Tuesday to talk about its budget. That is when we should know about any staff cuts.
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