Hamilton County Commission to consider $100 million investment in schools

Hamilton County Commission to consider $100 million investment in schools

August 30th, 2017 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Backed by government officials, employees and supporters, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger announces new projects for the county Tuesday morning on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has put $100 million on the table for Hamilton County Schools' construction and repair needs, if the county commission plays along.

Today, he will ask the Hamilton County Commission to keep the county's property tax rate in place, which would bring in an extra $25.5 million the county could put toward borrowing $225 million for capital needs in education, economic development, public safety and infrastructure.

"That's a sizable investment where I'm asking the commission to step up and do it, and ... a lot of responsibility is going to fall on the [Hamilton County Board of Education] as well," Coppinger said at a news conference on the courthouse lawn on Tuesday.

The money would be used to build new schools and expand capacity at schools with high growth rates, Coppinger said, citing conversations with new Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson. Other needs include roof repairs and renovations to athletic facilities.

"These are some of the projects that are needed that will be addressed, but there will be additional specific projects that are requested by the board of education that we will try to meet," Coppinger said. "It's all about education, because without education, we're not going to have the workforce we need."

Johnson said he did not necessarily expect the mayor to make such a proposal, but he knew the county's elected leaders had shown a passion for education.

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"We have a committed county mayor to education, we have a committed commission to education, we have a committed school board to education," Johnson said. "So you like to think when that commitment, that common thread, is there, that at some point there would be opportunity. I think what he presented today is just that — an opportunity for us to continue to support education, which is critical for this community."

Johnson had no immediate answers for how the $100 million might be spent, should Coppinger's proposal make it past the commission.

"This is all a new moment in time, so we'll work with our board very closely to determine where those funds will be allocated and how we will appropriate them," he said.

Steve Highlander, chairman of the school board, feels much the same.

"This is a bold move," Highlander said, applauding the mayor and acknowledging the "huge responsibility of commissioners to obtain and dispose" of the county's money.

The school board as a whole — informed by conversations with the county commission — will need to decide how to best use the $100 million, should the commission approve the mayor's plan, Highlander said.

The school board gave a list of $24 million in unfunded needs to the county commission before passage of the 2018 budget, which remained unfunded after commissioners passed the budget. The listed needs did not focus on capital matters, but instead sought to provide operational support for new teaching positions and professional development.

However, the school system's backlog of more than $200 million in maintenance needs is another matter.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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