The Metro Ideas Project has weighed in on the conversation surrounding a proposed 34-cent property tax increase to fund public education in Hamilton County.
The local, nonprofit research organization announced on Monday a new "school budget calculator" designed to "help residents understand the personal impact of the proposed $34 million increase requested by the Hamilton County School Board while also highlighting key items that were not included in this year's budget," according to a news release.
"This calculator is designed to help bring some factual grounding to the critical discussion our community is having right now," said Joda Thongnopnua, executive director of the Metro Ideas Project and former candidate for District 30's house seat, in a statement. "And it's an opportunity for residents, parents, and teachers to imagine the budget if they were in the driver's seat."
For more information on the Metro Ideas Project or to build your own school budget using the calculator, visit: www.metroideas.org/projects/hcde-tax-calculator/.
The calculator presents a return to public-facing initiatives by the organization since the group first worked to find a new way to tackle the complexities of school spending and present that information in a digestible way in 2016.
Previously, the group has advocated in favor of student-based budgeting, analyzed the district's per-pupil spending and advocated for Hamilton County government to adopt an open data policy.
The online tool allows participants to build their own school budget, complete with how much of a pay increase participants believe teachers should receive or how many more art teachers the district should hire.
Superintendent Bryan Johnson's proposed FY 2020 budget includes a 5% pay increase for teachers and certified staff — including the 2.5% promised by Gov. Bill Lee and additional negotiations between the district and the Hamilton County Education Association in annual collaborative conference. Each 1% increase costs the district about $2.5 million, according to district and Metro Ideas data.
The tool also offers "parents, residents, and students the opportunity to estimate their property taxes if the proposed budget presented by the Hamilton County School Board is adopted," according to the organization.
It also highlights some "key line items that were not included in the school budget," according to the news release, including nearly $20 million for deferred school facilities maintenance and nearly $3.2 million to provide students with at least 5 post-secondary credits by graduation.
"What often gets lost amidst the big numbers of a tax increase is how these kinds of public policy decisions impact individuals, that's what we wanted to explore with this calculator," Thongnopnua said in a statement. "This upcoming vote affects over 44,000 students relying on adults to make good decisions about their futures, we owe it to them to provide the facts."
The Metro Ideas Project is the latest organization to join in the dialogue about the controversial budget proposal and the latest to speak out about the budget.
Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, officially endorsed Hamilton County's proposed $819 million budget after Mayor Jim Coppinger presented it last week and dozens of local business owners stood alongside the mayor and the superintendent at a news conference before Coppinger's presentation to the Hamilton County Commission.
Chattanooga 2.0, UnifiEd and local foundations have been outspoken in support of a need for increased funding for Hamilton County's public schools, as well as supportive of Johnson's leadership in recent months.
Several commissioners have said they do not support a tax increase, and others say they remain undecided. The commission is scheduled to vote on the mayor's proposed budget, which includes the additional $34 million request from the school district, on June 26.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.