Hamilton County school board prepares for budget talks with county, meeting with state delegation

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during the Opportunity Zone Community Celebration Phase II at Howard School on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Parents, school faculty and community members gathered to note the accomplishments of the Opportunity Zone schools.

The Hamilton County school board has a loaded slate next week, including a joint meeting with the Hamilton County Commission and the county's state legislative delegation.

For the first time under Superintendent Bryan Johnson's leadership, the board will meet with county commissioners for budget discussions, said school board Chairman Joe Wingate, of District 7.


› Monday, Jan. 14: Joint meeting with Hamilton County Commission at 5:30p.m. at the Department of Education board room, 3074 Hickory Valley Road› Tuesday, Jan. 15: School board meeting with state delegation at 11 a.m. at at Orchard Knob Middle School, 500 N. Highland Park Avenue.› Thursday, Jan. 17: Regular school board session at 5:30p.m. at the Department of Education board room, 3074 Hickory Valley Road

"It'll be an opportunity for Bryan to talk about his priorities and what he sees and where he wants to go," Wingate said. He credited the county's education chair, Chip Baker, of District 2, and chairwoman Sabrina Smedley, of District 7, with approaching the school district for the joint meeting.

"Last year, we started the budget process the earliest I've ever seen and we wanted to duplicate that this year," Wingate added. "Monday will be our opportunity to begin that discussion at a higher level."

Rumors that the school board will ask the county for more money have already been circulating, but Wingate said he didn't know what the board would do yet. Johnson has also avoided confirming or denying such a request is in his sights.

He said he doesn't anticipate Monday's meeting will include talks about specific numbers or dollar amounts.

"We don't have that level of information to provide that around the budget yet," Johnson said. "I see Monday as an opportunity to talk about the vision and the direction of the district."

District 2 board member Kathy Lennon also noted that she has not heard from the superintendent that he'd like to ask the county for more funding, but said she was excited to share the efforts of the school district with county commissioners.

"I want them to see that we are making an effort to make things different," she said. Lennon did say she'd like to see further investment in the district's schools for its students and teachers.

Next week, the board will also meet with Hamilton County's state legislative delegation to share its own priorities with lawmakers - priorities that include increased opportunities for dual enrollment, additional funding for school counselors and opposition of school vouchers.

"We want to make sure our priorities align with our strategic plan," said District 6 board member Jenny Hill at the school board's agenda review session Thursday night, ahead of next week's meeting with state lawmakers.

The school board has worked with the lobbying firm Mullsaps Gowan Government Relations for years through the Coalition of Large Area School Systems (CLASS), which includes Knox County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools.

This year, for the first time, Hamilton County's board has put together its own legislative priorities, Hill said.

"We have for many years worked with CLASS to lobby on our behalf as a large school system," Hill said. "So this is an opportunity to get more value out of that relationship."

Board members discussed the 11 priorities Thursday and will further debate them at next week's regular board meeting. Board members also agreed that they wanted to share the priorities with the county's state delegation themselves.

Johnson said he was pleased that the board was taking up the initiative.

"I think it's important. [School board members] are elected officials and it's our job as an administration to carry forward their vision," he said.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at [email protected] or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.