This story was updated April 19, 2018, at 7 p.m.
UPDATE: The only change to the proposed budget previously presented to the board is an additional $250,000 allocated to hiring school resource officers, bringing proposed funding to half a million dollars for SROs.
ORIGINAL STORY: The Hamilton County school board will vote on Superintendent Bryan Johnson's proposed budget today.
Johnson is scheduled to present the $385,000,000 budget to the Hamilton County Commission on May 8. It will be the first time he's pitched an operating budget to local commissioners.
Click here to view the entire agenda for Thursday's meeting (https://emeetings.tsba.net/public/Meeting.aspx?PublicAgencyID=4373&PublicMeetingID=4010&AgencyTypeID=1)
-Representatives from UnifiEd, the local education advocacy organization, will present results from the months-long APEX (Action Plan for Educational Excellence) project to the board outlining community feedback on inequities in Hamilton County schools.
-The board will vote to approve school fees for the next school year. School fees, though technically voluntary, have been a controversial topic as some board members would like to abolish them.
-The prices for school lunches will potentially increase but only for staff and visitors, depending on how the board votes. The student price will remain steady, according to the proposed increases.
-A vote to approve to enter into a partnership with BlueCross BlueShield to create a high school Project SEARCH program is on the agenda. Project SEARCH is a national program that creates a path to help students with disabilities transition into employment.
The sentiment from many on the board, which has publicly praised Johnson for much of his work since he took over leadership of the school system last summer, has been that this year's budget is a success.
Johnson's team estimated almost $13 million in additional funds from growth and retirement savings that they have allocated to a variety of areas, including teacher raises, counselors, art teachers and school safety enhancements.
"Were headed in the right direction," said board member Joe Smith, of District 3. Smith, who has consistently advocated for presenting a balanced budget, did not anticipate Johnson and the district to request more funding from the county this year, but does not deny it might need to in the future.
As Johnson has cited many community priorities, such as increasing arts education and social and emotional supports across the district, his team has also said many additional hires would need to be made to reach their goals, such as the need to hire about 25 counselors to meet the ideal 1-to-300 ratio — this year's seven requested is a drop in the bucket.
"I'm sure the county commission realizes there is certainly going to come a day when we are going to need more resources, but I also think they want to see us continue to demonstrate fiscal responsibility," Smith said. "I think Johnson and the staff are demonstrating that."
The board will also vote to allocate almost $1 million in state funds toward the Partnership Network, which consists of the district's five lowest-performing schools. The district and state came to an agreement earlier this year, after years of attempts to improve student performance in those schools, which are also a part of the larger 12-school Opportunity Zone that Johnson launched last fall.
Most of the grant funds are to be allocated toward staff — community school coordinators, a data coordinator, new teacher coaches, reading specialists, math and literacy tutors and STEM teachers.
Johnson said that was intentional.
"People have the most significant impact on students whether its teachers or support staff, they are ultimately the implementers of priorities," he said. "We're implementing people, not programs."
Last week, one of District 4 board member Tiffanie Robinson's critiques of the proposed budget was the lack of a breakdown of the federal and state funding that would be specifically directed to the Opportunity Zone. District officials said since state and federal funding are received on different fiscal timelines, those breakdowns would be available later this summer.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her live on Twitter @memangrum during today's school board meeting.