School board approves raises for Hamilton County school employees

School board member Joe Galloway, right, speaks during a meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Education to name an interim superintendent Thursday, April 21, 2016 at the Hamilton County School Board building.

"This is the worst year for our budget. We haven't talked about any of this."

Teachers and administrators in Hamilton County Schools will get a slight bump in their paychecks next school year after the school board on Wednesday voted in favor of a salary increase.

Teachers will earn 2 percent more on their base salaries and administrators will see about a 1.8 percent raise, said Christy Jordan, Hamilton County Department of Education assistant superintendent of finance.

The board also voted to approve a balanced budget after receiving word the Hamilton County Commission was not going to approve the tax increase needed to provide the school system with the additional $24 million it requested last month.

School board member Rhonda Thurman voiced frustration before the board's vote on the budget, saying the school system needs to change the way it approaches the entire budgeting process.

photo Staff photo by John Rawlston / Rhonda Thurman speaks during the meeting of the Hamilton County School Board of Education

"This is the worst year for our budget," Thurman said. "We haven't talked about any of this."

Thurman reiterated her long-held concern that the school system continues each year to add money to programs and does not take time to evaluate what is working and where money can be better spent.

She argued that parts of the county, specifically areas north of the Tennessee River, aren't getting adequate funding or attention, and the new budget doesn't do anything to fix the problem.

School board member Karitsa Mosley was quick to respond that schools across the county are facing funding deficits.

"You can't say it is just in one place," Mosley argued.

Ultimately, the school board voted to approve a budget 6-3, with School Board Chairman Jonathan Welch, Thurman and school board member Greg Martin voting in opposition.

The budget, which goes into effect July 1, increases the amount of funding the district spends on workforce readiness, literacy and priority schools, but not by nearly as much as the board was hoping when it first approved a budget in April requesting the funding increase.

This year's general purpose budget of $363 million will be formally presented to the commission next week. The budget is about $1.2 million above the school system's projected revenue, and this will likely be covered by the district's fund balance.

Jordan explained that the school system has a total fund balance of about $59 million, but only $37 million of that money is undesignated and can be spent at the school board's discretion.

By state law, 3 percent of the district's total operating cost must remain in the fund balance, Jordan said. But she argued that is not enough to be safe, because the school system does not receive revenue evenly throughout the year and needs to dip into its reserves to cover operating costs.

photo Staff photo by Angela Foster / Jonathan Welch listens during a meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Education

Currently, the school system has enough money in reserves to survive five weeks, and having enough to last two months is considered best practice, Jordan said. She added that it costs about $2 million a day to run the school system.

The school board also voted to approve a request for proposal for superintendent search firms.

Welch said he didn't want the board to put a dollar figure on the request for proposal "so that we could see what is proposed to us."

Thurman warned the board how expensive it is to conduct a superintendent search, mentioning travel and hotel costs for candidates and footing the bill for public meetings.

"This isn't cheap," she said. "The superintendent search firm is the cheapest part of this whole endeavor."

Jordan said the search in 2006 cost $66,993, and $35,000 of that went to the search firm.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at 423-757-6592 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.