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Assistant superintendent of finance Christie Jordan presents a budget for vote to the Hamilton County Board of Education during special session on Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board approved a balanced budget to be sent to the county commission, and they approved a charter request for Chattanooga Preparatory School.

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School board approves balanced budget, list of $24 million in "critical needs."

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The Hamilton County Board of Education approved a balanced budget Thursday night, along with a list of additional needs totaling $24 million.

"I think that we are giving the county commission exactly what they asked for, a balanced budget and a list of our critical, very critical needs," said school board member Joe Smith.

Last week, the board voted against Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly's budget for this upcoming fiscal year, which asked for $33.5 million in additional revenue.

The board agreed that the district needs more money, but six board members decided to use a different strategy than just requesting the additional funds in the budget, as has been tried unsuccessfully for years. The board told Kelly they wanted to see a balanced budget along with a prioritized list of additional needs.

Kelly and his staff presented the board with this new budget and list Thursday night.

The district's general operating budget is expected to be $9 million more than last year — starting at $372.8 million —because of an increase in property and sales tax revenue, along with a boost in state funding. The budget the board approved Thursday allocates that money to cover the increasing cost of transportation and custodial services, and a 3 percent raise for educators.

The $24 million in additional requests is divided into three prioritized tiers, and footing the bill for the district's list of top-priorities will take about $13.2 million.

With that money, the district could fund a variety of new teaching positions and professional development, along with updates to technology and robotics programs, among other things.

The district had placed $1 million in block grants, money that goes directly to schools to be used at the principal's discretion, in its list of second-tier priorities. But Smith made a motion that the board move the money into its list of most pressing needs.

"I think it could be helpful to those principals," Smith said, adding that it can help cover things like the school fees students are asked to pay.

The board unanimously agreed.

The second tier of priorities on the list totals $5.9 million and includes more funding for technology and teacher support. An additional $4.8 million is needed to cover the district's final list of requests, and seeks more money for professional development stipends, a records clerk and additional funds for special education.

Rhonda Thurman was the only member of the school board to vote against the budget, and said the district should include money to cover the school fees and new technology in the base budget, and give teachers a raise if additional funding is provided. She noted that teachers received a 2 percent raise last year.

"We need to be sure that our students are getting what they need and that principals are getting what they need to run their schools," Thurman said. " I think we have this thing bass-ackwards."

School board member Kathy Lennon disagreed, and said the district must invest in teachers.

"I feel like our students have to have great teachers," Lennon said. " we've got to have better teachers and the best teachers in the classroom for our children."

The district's budget and list of additional needs will now go to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger's desk. Coppinger has scheduled a work session with the Hamilton County Commission to discuss the district's budget on May 9.

If Coppinger allocates additional funding for schools in the county's budget, the commission must make the decision to approve or deny it.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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