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District 8 Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd is seen during a county commission meeting in the commission assembly room at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Several Hamilton County commissioners and school board members are hosting public meetings to discuss the proposed budget and a potential tax increase in the coming weeks.

For a complete list of meetings, visit: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2019/may/15/heres-list-upcoming-public-meetings-about-hamilton-county-budget/494703/.

Hamilton County District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd took shots at the county school district at Wednesday's commission meeting, calling Hamilton County Schools' $443 million budget request presentations "misinformation and misleading information."

At a District 7 community meeting Tuesday night, hosted by Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, who represents District 7, Boyd claimed that he questioned school board Chairman Joe Wingate about the budget proposal. Boyd said Wingate told him he had not read the entire budget line by line.

In a post on Facebook later that evening, Boyd urged "every voter in this county" to "re-evaluate our school board members who supported this budget."

On Wednesday, Boyd raised his concerns about the school district's request for more counselors, social workers, truancy officers and interventionists — all part of about 350 additional requested positions — and questioned the "national benchmarks" the district cites and where it gathers its data.

"We need to be very careful about what the Department of Education puts out there," Boyd said. "Especially when they use these terms like national benchmarks."

Boyd's school board counterpart, Tucker McClendon, was fired up about the commissioner's comments Wednesday.

"The school system has no reason to put out misinformation," McClendon said. "Our agenda is that we are giving every child in Hamilton County the education they deserve. Other groups in town are political. We are not focused on being political in any way with this budget."

Boyd said he was concerned with the district's claim that the national benchmark for counselor-to-student ratio is 1-to-250, which is the recommendation from the American School Counselor Association, the leading professional organization for the profession.

He also said he was concerned with the district's increased budget for its communications department. In fiscal year 2019, the district spent $332,319 on its communications and public relations department. In its proposed fiscal 2020 budget, the district is asking for $486,509. This includes five total communications positions, which were also budgeted for in fiscal 2019.

When asked why the district needs five "public relations positions," Boyd claims that Wingate said at Tuesday night's meeting "to control the message."

Wingate told the Times Free Press that his statement had been "tweaked" and that he told Boyd before Superintendent Bryan Johnson took over leadership of the district that it only had one communications person and now it has a real department.

The district's chief of staff, Nakia Towns Edwards, said the driver of the $300,000 increase in the total family and community engagement budget is funding for contracted services and software applications.

Edwards said in an email that the additional money will go toward expanding the district's community school model — now in use at Red Bank High and in Opportunity Zone schools — to other locations, as well as connecting with partners such as volunteer providers or translation services.

"We understand that some may have not read the budget narrative in their efforts to just dig into the numbers," she added. "However, the numbers, without the context provided in the budget narrative, really lead to a lot of erroneous conclusions."

Other elected officials, including McClendon and other school board members, have taken to social media to defend the proposed budget as talks about a potential tax increase heat up.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is expected to present his proposed budget, a culmination of the county's general budget and the school district's request, to the Hamilton County Commission on June 5.

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

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