Schools budget gets friendly welcome from Hamilton County Commission [video, document]

Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, Dr. Bryan Johnson, speaks to the Times Free Press staff in 2018.

Hamilton County commissioners were warm and welcoming Tuesday as schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson presented a budget that includes 2.5 percent teacher raises, investments in security and technology, and no request for more money from the county.

"Dr. Johnson and the school board have brought a wonderful budget addressing the real needs and moving our system forward. We're going to get behind him and bring him what he needs to keep the progress going," Commissioner Warren Mackey said after the morning presentation.

Johnson spoke at the first of two public meetings on the fiscal 2018-19 budget, which takes effect July 1. The second meeting will unveil the proposed budget for county general government. That includes funding for things like the health department and constitutional office such as the sheriff's offices, county and court clerks and other offices.

Johnson and schools finance director Christy Jordan said the $377 million base budget is $1 million lower than the current year but projects almost $13.9 million in new revenue, for a total of $385.4 million.

The 2.5 percent raise combines 2 percent included in Gov. Bill Haslam's budget with local money.

The state raise only pays for positions mandated under the state's Basic Education Program. Those are core subjects such as math, reading and social studies. But Hamilton County has another 550 instructional personnel.

For those workers, the district will cover the total cost of a 2.5 percent raise, and pay for a 0.5 percent raise for employees covered by the state's funding program.

Johnson said he has allocated the new revenue in five areas: accelerating student achievement; his Future Ready Institute plans; teacher and leadership development; community engagement; and effective, efficient operations.

That includes seven new English as a second language teachers for growing Latino enrollment, plus funding for seven full-time arts teachers and seven counselors. The money actually will be spread around so more schools can receive those services, Johnson said.

There's $1.9 million for school safety, including $500,000 for six to eight new school resource officers and funding for controlled-access doors in school buildings.

The county is going to kick in $400,000 or so to buy cars and equipment for the new SROs.

The budget includes $2.5 million so all middle-schoolers will have access to laptops or Chromebooks and to boost technology access in high schools.

"We've got to continue to move our technology position forward," Johnson said. That's not just devices, it's teachers, content and curriculum support and infrastructure, too.

His Future Ready Institutes, small, job-focused programs inside the system's high schools will get 10 college career advisers, $3.3 million for technology students can use and another $3 million for educational tech and infrastructure support.

He budgeted $3 million for capital improvements, but noted that's on top of almost $25 million committed this year and last for maintenance, renovations and new buildings.

Commissioners Chester Bankston, Jim Fields, Joe Graham, Mackey, Greg Martin and Sabrena Smedley heard the presentation. Commissioners Greg Beck and Tim Boyd and Chairman Randy Fairbanks were absent.

Martin asked who decides where to place the SROs. Johnson said that's mostly up to the sheriff, who will look at enrollment, crime and other factors.

Martin also wanted to know if Future Ready money will go to schools that already have work-training programs, such as health sciences at Hixson High School. Johnson said funding will be used to better integrate academics into the tech programs using more coaches and industry partners.

Mackey said the teacher raise is a good start, but not enough.

"We're still in a situation where we're competing against Georgia and surrounding counties. We train them and then we lose them," he said.

Johnson said teachers' pay increased 5.5 percent altogether in the last two years but agreed that "we have to work to continue to be more competitive."

Staff writer Meghan Mangrum contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfree or 423-757-6416.