Hamilton County schools have made significant improvements in alignment with recommendations laid out by the Hamilton County Schools Budget Working Group, according to a letter sent Monday from Superintendent Bryan Johnson to Mayor Jim Coppinger.
As the school board approaches budget conversations this week, Johnson reported the actions taken since May 2017 to address many of the recommendations originally outlined in the working group's own report.
In the past two years, the district has begun building two new schools, has reduced class sizes, increased graduation rates for the first time in five years, and restructured its Central Office, in accordance with several of the group's recommendations.
Coppinger said he was impressed by the accomplishments of the district, and particularly Johnson.
"It strikes me as being something that should give us optimism about the future," he said.
When asked if Hamilton County schools are where they should be though, Coppinger said there is always room for improvement — and more resources.
"My hopes are, as I believe all the citizens of Hamilton County's hopes are, is to get better results," he said. "We have to provide more resources for the classroom to get better results in order to do that. We always have to explore what the options are and sometimes they require more money."
Coppinger established the budget working group in 2017 and the group of 11 business and community leaders analyzed the school district's budget and operations in a 70-page report that also detailed strategies for the county.
One of the group's recommendations in 2017 — that Johnson said the district "did not have the authority to levy" — was a proposed new tax that would help fund school consolidations, freeing up new money for the district to reinvest in classroom priorities.
In his letter, Johnson noted how the district has leveraged its assigned fund balance, natural revenue growth and retirement incentive savings to help fund technology initiatives and jump start capital maintenance projects.
The letter, Coppinger said, will give him and the commission something the look at and consider as budget discussions continue in the coming weeks.
Johnson and his staff will present his proposed budget for the next fiscal year to the school board this Thursday. Coppinger said he was anxiously awaiting Johnson's proposal and the school board's decision on that proposal, which is slated for May 9.
Though the working group had not actively requested a report on the district's progress, Johnson said the Monday of budget week was "an ideal time" to send it to the mayor and his school board members.
Having been at the helm of the district for a year and a half, Johnson said he was feeling much clearer about "where the [the district] was headed and where we need to go."
"I thought, with the uniqueness of [the working group], it would be appropriate to respond to their report with some of the actions taken," Johnson told the Times Free Press.
"The district and school board will soon begin in earnest a much-needed conversation about the path forward," Johnson wrote in the letter's conclusion. "Our children deserve no less."