Hamilton County school board approves Superintendent Bryan Johnson's $443 million budget

Budget asks county for additional $34 million in funding, including raises, more employees

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / 
Superintendent Bryan Johnson presents his 2019-20 budget to the school board at the Hamilton County Schools board room on Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Superintendent Bryan Johnson presents his 2019-20 budget to the school board at the Hamilton County Schools board room on Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Board of Education approved Superintendent Bryan Johnson's proposed $443 million budget in a 7-2 vote Thursday night.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 includes a request for $34 million more than the district's $409 million in projected revenue for the 2019-20 academic year.

The budget includes funding for nearly 350 positions, including more social workers, truancy officers, school counselors, special education teachers and other employees. It also includes a 5% pay raise for teachers and a 4% bump for classified staff; a $1.8 million allocation to schools to eliminate general school fees and costs related to increasing the one-to-one, laptop-per-student ratio in the district.

Many board members said they were proud of the budget and how well it aligned with the district's strategic plan, which the board adopted last fall.

"I felt very privileged to work with this board that is making some significant improvements on behalf of Hamilton County's students and Hamilton County's future. We are, as a team, committed to the strategic plan," said District 6 school board member Jenny Hill.

She called the budget a "moral document" that shows the board's true values.

"We have more than half of this budget going to accelerating student achievement," Hill said.

Board members Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, and Steve Highlander, of District 9, voted against the budget.

Highlander proposed during the meeting an alternative budget seeking from the Hamilton County Commission additional funding for only the 5% teacher pay raise, but his proposal died without a second.

He cited concerns about the tax increase that would be necessary to generate the additional funds, and pointed out the impact that could have on older taxpayers living on fixed incomes. Several county commissioners have voiced opposition to a 49-cent tax rate increase they say Mayor Jim Coppinger plans to request to fund the county's budget this year. The county's current property tax rate stands at $2.76 per $100 of a home's assessed value. The proposed increase would amount to an 18 percent hike of the tax rate.

Thurman said the district gets money from taxpayers every year and that it is unfair to say that the district hasn't received more funding since 2005.

"Point of information, since we're talking about truth," Thurman said. "We get money from the taxpayer every year, in the form of growth. This year, we're getting $9 million. We may not have gotten a tax increase for more money, but we get millions more every year."

All but one board member - Chairman and District 7 representative Joe Wingate - spoke publicly about the budget during Thursday's meeting.

Though Highlander and Thurman have been outspoken against the budget since Johnson initially unveiled it on April 25, Wingate has been undecided, according to his fellow board members.

He acknowledged it was a tough vote for him after the meeting.

"It was tough for me because I have said over and over that I don't think it's fair for us to ask the taxpayer for more money until you have shown to be a good steward of that money," Wingate said.

He said he doesn't think the district has historically been a good steward, but Johnson has.

"I really believe we have a great leader, " he said. "But I know we're in this climate, and it's fair, that we want to see results and I believe we have, but we've only seen one year of results."

Wingate acknowledged he wasn't sure if the time was right to ask for more money until the district had seen more positive growth, but he ultimately voted in favor of Johnson's budget.

The board received a standing ovation after all members had voted, led by Tennessee Education Association representative Theresa Turner.

The district will officially present the budget to the county commission for the first time at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the county's McDaniel Building, 455 North Highland Park Ave.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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