Greeson: When pinching pennies becomes publicly puzzling

Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Commissioners wrap around a table at the Hamilton County Board of Education during a joint meeting Monday, January 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

There are a lot of us who look suspiciously and caustically with eyebrows raised at the public budgets pitched every year.

For a lot of folks in my age bracket, the tales of the $400 toilet seat in the military discussions in the 1980s will be the budgetary Alamo - never forgotten.

It was with those same suspicions and raised eyebrows that I questioned the need for the over-the-top, 34-cent tax rate increase to fund the school system's extremely socially conscientious budgetary aims this summer.

Some of you insulted me for it. Way more of you agreed with me on it. Regardless, the fallout after the measure failed has proven that being against that needless tax increase was far and away the right side.

First there was the Trojan Horse claim that the top priority from school leadership was that our teachers need raises.

photo Jay Greeson

Despite being given a bigger budget and more money, the school system instituted bonuses rather than raises and still created more than 180 new jobs, while not permanently rewarding those now doing a great job with our school kids.

Then there was the 13th-hour revelation that our system is going to need hundreds of millions, if not billions, to overhaul our buildings and facilities. Those needs are real, people, and if you have been to any number of our public schools, you are well aware of this.

Now comes the news that the school system has rummaged through the sofa cushions of its budget and found almost $19 million in extra revenue.

Yes, almost $19 million. That's a heck of a big sofa.

With an extra $8.9 million collected in revenue from our local taxes and coming in $11 million under budget, the school system has a whole bunch of wiggle room.

So they added more into the teachers' bonuses. Cool. I have two kids in Hamilton County public schools and believe that their teachers are doing a great job.

While some will point to the administration being ''fiscally responsible,'' the fact that there was close to $20 million in excess as the school system was trying to emotionally blackmail the taxpayers for another $34 million is shameful.

Especially with the knowledge that a tax increase for school facilities and maintenance will be a very real possibility next year.

But when that conversation happens, and the school system asks for more, can anyone blame John Q. Taxpayer for wondering how much ''extra'' money the school has stuffed under the sofa cushions?

I hope some of the folks on the school board ask similar questions Thursday night and go beyond the glad-handing and back-slapping that make a whole lot of us wonder who is in charge, the board or the superintendent.

Because know this: When you ask for $34 million more when you are already sitting on $19 million more, well, it will only make future requests seem hollow and be viewed with a growing skepticism.

Like $400 toilet seats.

Contact Jay Greeson at