Budget season begins for Hamilton County Schools

Budget season begins for Hamilton County Schools

Board to discuss budget in work session Thursday

February 11th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News


Click here to view the entire agenda for Thursday’s meeting.


School board seats up for re-election this year

› Districts 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9

School board members who are running for re-election

› Joe Smith, District 3

› Karitsa Mosley Jones, District 5

› David Testerman, District 8

› Steve Highlander, District 9

Less than a week after meeting in its first executive session of the year and a visit from Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, the Hamilton County school board will have another packed agenda at Thursday's regularly scheduled meeting.

The nine board members are expected to vote to accept the state's proposed plan, presented last week, to aid the system's five historically failing schools once threatened with a state takeover, as well as vote on a resolution supporting or condemning the new grading system for schools the state introduced last year in an effort to increase accountability and compliance with the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Thursday also marks the beginning of budget season, and the board will meet in a work session before the regular board meeting.

"The meeting on [Feb. 15] is the first meeting we've had about the budget," said board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1. "It will be a general overview of where we're at and the beginning of the budget process."

Historically, the board appointed a finance committee and a specific board member led the process of reviewing and adopting the budget that would be presented to the Hamilton County Commission. Last year, board member Tiffanie Robinson led that process.

However, in October the board voted to disband the finance committee based on a recommendation from the Tennessee School Boards Association to strategically consolidate committees, according to the board's member and chairman, Steve Highlander.

District 3 board member Joe Smith has two top priorities for this year — presenting a balanced budget to the county and "repealing and replacing" school fees.

Smith attributes last year's slight budget increase to the board presenting a balanced budget to the county.

"They saw for the first time in awhile, the school board presenting a balanced budget," Smith said. "They saw the school board being fiscally responsible."

In June, the county commission adopted a budget that allocated $425.7 million to the school district — only an $8 million increase. Many in the community had called for a local tax increase to fund $24 million in additional needs identified by the district, but Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger's budget, which passed 8-1, did not include one.

Smith — who is running for re-election in August's primary — also hopes to get rid of public school fees for local parents.

"Fees are a hardship for families," Smith said. "If you're a single mom with four kids, you're paying almost $1,000 a year in public school fees."

Smith acknowledged schools rely on those fees, and he hopes the board will be able to re-allocate funds to replace the burden on families.

Also Thursday, the board will receive a first semester bullying report from the district's Title IX coordinator Karen Glenn.

Glenn is leading some of the changes recommended in an investigation into the aftermath of the 2015 rape of an Ooltewah High School student.

Last week, the board met in its first executive session in more than a year with attorney Chuck Purcell to discuss two recent judicial rulings and ongoing litigation in the 2015 Ooltewah rape case, which had seemingly mystified some board members.

Several board members said they felt informed and confident in their attorneys and their representation after the approximately 40-minute meeting, despite being pressed on whether that was sufficient time to provide more than a year's worth of updates on several legal cases.

The board also is expected to vote to accept a memorandum of agreement with the state, which will leave the governance of five failing schools — Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary — to the district. A five-year "Partnership Network" will appoint a seven-member advisory board and a state-hired and funded liaison to oversee the schools. The network will fall under the umbrella of Superintendent Bryan Johnson's Opportunity Zone.

The board also will vote on next year's academic calendar, a draft of which was presented last week.

Staff writer Rosana Hughes will cover Thursday's work session and board meeting beginning at 4 p.m. Follow along with her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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