Updated at 4:02 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, 2019, with more information.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Thursday his proposed tax rate increase to further fund public education is an important nonpartisan issue for the county.
Coppinger and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson both spoke at a downtown meeting of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga about the county's proposed budget, which includes an additional $34 million for the school district.
"This is a local issue. Not a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's not a conservative issue. It's not a liberal issue," Coppinger said. "It's our county's issue. It's our community. If you're not satisfied with where we are, we've got to get some more resources into the classroom."
Thursday's luncheon was the latest stop for the duo, as they've spent the past several weeks advocating for the budget since Coppinger officially introduced it to the county commission on June 5.
Johnson said the budget reflects the expectations that the district has for students in the district and the responsibility the district has of preparing those students to be productive members of the workforce and the community.
The additional funding in the district's $443 million request budget, officials say, will pay for more than 350 additional positions, including 14 new school counselors; 10 social workers; 10 special education teachers; a 5% pay raise for teachers; and more funding for technology for students.
Hamilton County commissioners have been mixed over whether they will support Coppinger's proposed budget, which is up for a vote Wednesday.
Among those who have said they will vote against it is Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, of District 1, who previously told the Times Free Press, "The information I've got from [my constituents] so far makes it clear that a tax increase is off the table for me this time. I have to be sensitive to what it costs them and what they want."
Another argument against the proposed tax increase has been that the county should wait to see improved student achievement before giving the district more money, but Coppinger said he doesn't need to wait to see test scores.
"I don't have to wait on the test scores. [Johnson] doesn't have to wait on the test scores," the mayor said. "We're moving in the right direction. The only thing that's going to get in that way is if we slow that momentum down."
Johnson responded to a question posed by a fellow Rotarian and said though TNReady test scores are now embargoed, the district knows there has been improvement.
"I'll say this, we know," Johnson said. "We know there's improvement in every area. I won't say any more than that [but] We know that it's pretty significant."
State test data isn't expected to be released until at least July. The county commission is slated to vote on the budget next week on June 26.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.