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A group of teachers — loosely identified as Hamilton County United — is calling on elected officials to join them for a town hall on Nov. 17 on teacher pay and public education funding.

In an open letter last month, more than 70 teachers called out Commissioners Randy Fairbanks, Sabrena Smedley, Tim Boyd, Greg Martin and Chester Bankston for voting against a wheel tax referendum and a 34-cent property tax increase included in the first round of FY 2020 budget proposals that could have directed more funding to public education earlier this year.

Since going public, organizers of the group say they have been "overwhelmed by a tremendous amount of support from across our community."

"Hundreds have signed out and asked to add their names," said an email sent by Kendra Young, a teacher at East Hamilton School, to commissioners and school board members Tuesday evening. "They made the decision to officially stand alongside us because they do not feel their voices are being heard on this issue, nor that their community's needs are being met."

In the email, Young notes that many members of the community, as well as commissioners and school board members, have suggested meeting to discuss concerns that include increasing teacher pay, how to fund public schools and if the district should fund additional supports like mental health resources for students.

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READ MORE: Letter to Hamilton County commissioners, school board

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Board member Tiffanie Robinson, of District 4, appeared before the commission on Oct. 23 to call on commissioners and school board members to work together.

"We have real problems in this community. And I think as elected officials, the nine of you, the nine of us, there are 18 people who care deeply about this community and we have to figure out how to start solving these problems," Robinson said.

But Young said that to the best of her knowledge that hasn't happened, either publicly or behind closed doors.

"It's time to hash this out," she told the Times Free Press Tuesday. "It's time to have a productive conversation about things that are doable."

Hamilton County educators have been outspoken since a teacher pay hike was cut from the district's FY 2020 budget after Superintendent Bryan Johnson's original $443 million proposal, which would have required a 34-cent property tax increase to fund, was shot down by commissioners.

The commission also shot down the possibility of putting a wheel tax up for voter referendum on the March 2020 ballot to fund teacher pay raises last month.

The school board has come under fire from commissioners and community members for forgoing the teacher pay bump and adding more than 100 new positions instead.

School district officials have argued that schools are understaffed when it comes to support personnel, and even teachers spoke out during the budget process about the need for positions such as counselors, social workers, behavioral specialists and education assistants.

Young said that now educators are more united than ever. Though many teachers are afraid to speak out, she has been surprised by the amount of support educators are receiving from the community, she said.

The town hall is planned for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Brainerd Youth & Family Development Center, 1010 North Moore Road. David Carroll of WRCB-TV Channel 3 will be moderating.

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

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