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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Hamilton County Schools superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during a school board meeting Thursday, July 11, 2019 at the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Hamilton County school board members will have to take a second look at the board's plan to eliminate school fees next school year, as well as the results of its negotiations with the local teacher's union, thanks to its revised fiscal year 2020 budget.

District leaders presented the board with a new proposed $410 million budget for the 2019-20 school year last week after the Hamilton County Commission shot down the board's original proposed budget in June, which asked for an additional $34 million in funding from the county.

The new budget is $19 million more than FY 2019's budget, but the increase is only thanks to tax revenue growth and other increased revenue, so the district has to scale down $34 million in proposed requests.

One of those requests was the plan to eliminate general instruction school fees and standardize fees such as parking and senior fees across the district.

The board initially approved new school fee policies in May, but it has to vote on a new plan sometime this month.

"The [board] approved a schedule of fees that eliminated general instruction and class fees for core content areas. The schedule of fees included a standardized $20 fee for art, science, and technology. This schedule of fees was pending budget approval from the Hamilton County Commission. Due to the revision of the FY 20 Proposed Budget, board approval is required for a new schedule of fees," according to a school board document.

Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg will present two options at the board's July meeting this Thursday. One option would allocate $1 million in the budget toward school funding in order to substantially reduce fees, whereas the second option would not allocate any money from the budget to replace what schools typically collect from fees.

"With the revised budget, we cut that proposed budget amount from $1.9 million to $1 million. Because of that, we are going to have to revise the school fees at some level," Goldberg said at the board meeting Monday night.

Instead, Goldberg would recommend the board standardize fees across the district — elementary schools could ask for $45 per student, middle schools could collect $55 per student and high schools could ask for $65 per student.

Goldberg and Superintendent Bryan Johnson both noted that most schools would still benefit from standardized fees, but the district would have to monitor the schools that now collect more in fees.

UPCOMING SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS

July 18 at 4:30 p.m.: Budget work session

July 18 at 5:30 p.m.: Regular monthly board meeting

July 23 at 9:30 a.m.: Joint Hamilton County Commission and school board meeting at the county’s McDaniel Building, 455 North Highland Park Ave.

Tentative - July 25 at 5:30 p.m.: Special call session for the board to vote on the budget, other policies

* All meetings except for the July 23 joint meeting will take place in the Hamilton County Schools’ boardroom at 3074 Hickory Valley Road.

Some schools might need "stabilization" funds, Johnson said.

Johnson originally appointed a district improvement team earlier this year to sort through the district's school fees that have varied wildly from school to school for years, and he asked the team to come up with a recommendation.

"One of the reasons I think fees got from zero to 150 was because schools didn't have enough operating money to do what they need to do," Johnson said. "We still do need to figure out a way to make sure schools have what they need."

Other options include dipping into the district's $30 million-plus fund balance for one year to help supplement school fees and reassessing the budget next year, he said.

Chief Talent Officer Keith Fogleman also noted at Monday's meeting that the district will be back at the table with the Hamilton County Education Association this week to address concerns about the revised budget's impact on union negotiations.

The district originally agreed upon at least a 3% raise for teachersand an ideal 5% — as well as other changes to salary schedules and professional development pay rates, but some of those components have since been revised.

The board will have to approve the district's memorandum of understanding with HCEA, the teacher's union, later this month and is slated to do so when it votes on the new budget.

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

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