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The Hamilton County Board of Education might delay approval of Superintendent Bryan Johnson's $420 million budget proposal amid questions about projected revenue and the current economic situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The board met to discuss Johnson's proposed balanced budget for only the second time Monday and is slated to vote to adopt the budget at its April board meeting Thursday, but several board members wondered if it might be better to hold off on a vote.

"I think it might be prudent to make two budgets or ask for an extension," board member Rhonda Thurman of District 1 said Monday.

Thurman and other board members cited concerns about the impact lower sales tax revenue and other potential funding decreases would have on an adopted budget.

Board member Steve Highlander of District 10 also wondered if the district would actually receive $10 million in additional funding from property tax growth from the county commission this year.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools announces proposed plans for summer school, final grades amid closures due to the coronavirus pandemic)

Typically the board presents a budget to the Hamilton County Commission to consider each year in May, which is incorporated into County Mayor Jim Coppinger's proposed budget presented to the commission in June and July — but legally a budget does not have to be adopted until the end of September.

The district is scheduled to present an adopted budget on May 5 to the commission, and the budget already takes into account estimated decreases in sales tax revenue in the coming year due to businesses closures and the expected economic recession.

Board chairman Joe Wingate of District 7 asked school system Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg about the advantages or disadvantages of halting this week's possible budget vote.

"I don't think it helps us to wait," Goldberg said at Monday's budget work session. "I don't think there are a tremendous amount of cons other than just the unknowns that would exist throughout the district until we had a budget presented to the commission. My preference would be to approve the budget the way it is and to make any adjustments that we need to make based on data, not guesses, down the road."

The district typically receives sales tax revenue figures about two months behind, according to Goldberg. For instance, it only recently received February's sales tax collections, and those were about $140,000 higher than in 2019.

Most new positions the district would hire for this summer — it typically hires around 300 teachers each year due to retirements and resignations — would have to be filled "pending an approved budget."

Both Goldberg and Johnson assured the board that the current proposed budget makes conservative predictions, and Johnson told the board that the district is "bracing for a decline."

The board is scheduled to vote to adopt its fiscal year 2021 budget during a 5:30 p.m. board meeting on Thursday, April 23. The meeting was rescheduled from April 16 due to the tornadoes that hit Chattanooga and surrounding areas last week. It will be conducted virtually and will be live-streamed on Hamilton County Schools' Facebook and YouTube pages.

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

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