The Hamilton County Department of Education will pay out slightly more than expected in retirement bonuses this year, with 178 employees declaring their intent to retire by the March 15 deadline.
At their February meeting, school board members approved a plan by Superintendent Bryan Johnson to offer teachers retirement bonuses, in an attempt to generate payroll savings of an estimated $20,000 per person.
"We had projected numbers and definitely met the projections," Johnson said. "We appreciate the service of our employees and feel fortunate to have been able to extend this opportunity."
The savings could fund new technology, additional counselors, creative arts teachers and school safety measures, Johnson has said.
The retirement incentive was predicted to have a one-time cost of $6.5 million to cover a projected 150 people. With more than two dozen additional educators indicating their intentions to retire, however, the extra cost will be covered by money from Basic Education Program funds.
The number of staff who intend to retire, pending approval from the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, is an increase from typical years. Historically, about 110 to 125 employees retire from the school system each year.
Though board members approved the plan in a 7-1 vote in February, some members expressed doubts. Now, some are wary.
"It looks to me that we just paid out a whole bunch of money to people who were going to retire anyways," District 1 board member Rhonda Thurman said.
Within a packed agenda for tonight's board meeting is a request for 20 new positions - nine full-time and 11 half-time - for the Opportunity Zone, including a new teacher coach, a data coordinator and literacy and math staff.
"I want to know how we're going to pay for it," said District 3 board member Joe Smith. "Every time we turn around, it looks like we're wanting to add new positions. If they're needed and we can pay for it, then let's do it, but we're adding a lot of new positions to this budget."
Johnson said those Opportunity Zone-specific positions will be paid for through priority school funding and grants the district will receive through the Partnership Network.
Board members intend to discuss both the retirement incentive and a March 17 recruitment fair at a work session before the regular board meeting, as well as the Opportunity Zone and federal funding for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Tonight's meeting will also be the second budget meeting.
"We have a mountain of work ahead of us," Smith said. Smith plans on insisting the board presents a balanced budget to the Hamilton County Commission again this year, in line with precedent set last year. He also reiterated his desire to do away with school fees, a position he believes other board members share.
Other things to watch for Thursday:
» A presentation by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond on how to improve school safety, including the possibilities of additional funding for school resource officers and arming teachers.
» A discussion on equity, including a proposal for an equity task force by the district's chief equity officer, Marsha Drake, and a presentation from the local chapter of the NAACP.
» Approval of more than $7.1 million in contracts for architects working on multiple capital projects, including renovations and new additions to Harrison Elementary, East Hamilton Middle, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Howard High, Snow Hill Elementary and Tyner Middle and High schools.
» Board approval and appropriation of nearly a half million dollars for the new Raptor visitor management system the district is rolling out in all schools by April and the installation of a controlled door management system, to enhance school safety.
» Yearly tenure recommendations for 186 teachers.
» The first reading of an updated tobacco policy that would officially prohibit tobacco use on all school properties.
» And an appearance by student representatives of Students Leading Change, the local youth movement that helped plan student walkouts last week and Saturday's March for Our Lives event to promote gun control and safer schools.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.