Community News Hamilton County school budget asks for additional $32 million

Community News Hamilton County school budget asks for additional $32 million

March 8th, 2017 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Community Metro

The Hamilton County Department of Education building is shown in this file photo.

Sources of revenue increases

$4 million in state funding

$1 million in property tax revenue

$2 million in local sales tax revenue

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education

By the numbers

› Adopted budget for fiscal year 2017: $363 million

› Base budget expense starting point for fiscal year 2018: $365 million

› Preliminary projected revenue for fiscal year 2018: $368.8 million

› Revenue available for fiscal year 2018 needs: $3.9 million

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education

A draft of next year's school budget request given to the Hamilton County school board last week seeks a more than $32 million increase in the current budget.

The district is expecting about $7 million in new money in fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, but nearly half that is needed to cover about a dozen new positions and the cost of annual step-pay increases.

"We have almost $3.9 million available for our [fiscal year 2018] needs," Christie Jordan, assistant superintendent of finance, told the board, noting that's just a small slice of the extra $32 million requested in the proposed budget. Starting revenue for the upcoming year's budget is estimated at $368.8 million and the district's proposed budget exceeds $397 million.

The proposal builds on this year's budget and doesn't suggest any cuts to existing programs or funding. The district has been criticized in the past for not using zero-based budgeting, which requires every spending item to be justified.

The Hamilton County Commission, which holds the district's purse strings, has signaled it isn't ready to raise property taxes to boost the schools budget. The commission has not raised taxes for schools in more than a decade.

Jordan said all the requested increases are tied to the district's strategic goals to boost achievement, engage students and improve attendance. The budget proposes funding to start an assistant principal academy, hire five art teachers and 15 literacy teachers, and update technology in schools, among many other things.

It also seeks $1.5 million to support the district's lowest-performing schools, since more than $10 million in federal grants it had been receiving for those schools have ended.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Zac Brown said the district also needs to hire staff to support the growing number of students learning English. The district is hoping to pilot a program at The Howard School in the coming school year that will offer nine months of intense language support, better preparing English-language learners for regular classes, he added.

Several school board members voiced support for starting such a program.

Jordan noted the budget proposal doesn't project any increase in transportation costs, even though the board is considering increasing the compensation and number of its independent contract bus drivers.

Tiffanie Robinson, chairwoman of the school board's finance committee, said Wednesday she didn't expect to be presented a balanced budget and it will be hard if the district is unable to fund some of the programs and positions included in the $32 million added request.

Robinson said she's glad the district is tying the budget to the strategic plan, and hopes it will also include specific data points to many of the budget requests before presenting it to the Hamilton County Commission.

During the meeting, Robinson asked the district to provide her with more detailed information about where the programs and pilots mentioned in the budget would be started or expanded.

"I want to make sure we're not overlooking equitable opportunities for some students," she said.

School board member Joe Wingate asked the district to consider what could be cut from the current budget.

"Before we do see this [budget] again, I would like to see a list of things that are maybe not so needed anymore," he said.

The board is scheduled to meet March 9 to continue budget discussions, and Jordan told the board at the end of the meeting, "We've got a lot more to do."