This story was updated at 2:21 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, 2020, with more information.
The Hamilton County school board voted 6-3 Thursday night to delay approving the administration's proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, but several board members seemed unsure why.
Board member Steve Highlander of District 9 made the initial motion to table the vote — which had been discussed during Monday night's budget work session — out of concerns about the economic implications of the current coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed $420 million budget presented by Superintendent Bryan Johnson to the board on March 30 focuses on maintaining current staffing levels in the district's schools and continues to push the district's literacy efforts, and it does not include an additional teacher pay raise as district officials promised it might earlier this spring.
The budget counts on about $10 million in anticipated growth money from property tax revenue and increased state funding under the Basic Education Program formula.
Highlander suggested that he is concerned about the potential for funding cuts at the state or local level.
"It is my understanding that the commission is going to make some budget statements next week," he said. "I would like to get some direction from our funding body, the [Hamilton] County Commission. I have heard from some legislators, and they are anticipating some cuts from the state level further than what we've seen."
Board members Rhonda Thurman, Tiffanie Robinson and Tucker McClendon also spoke in favor of delaying the vote — but several board members pushed for more information from Highlander after Johnson clarified that he had received no direction from County Mayor Jim Coppinger to halt the budget process.
"I haven't heard from any, not a single commissioner, and I talked to the county mayor at five o'clock before this meeting just to make sure we were on track and on target," Johnson said Thursday.
The school board is scheduled to present the district's budget proposal to the county commission during a work session on May 5. Public education is the largest item in the county's annual budget, making up more than half of it, and typically the mayor and the commission review the school request before the mayor presents an official budget proposal in June.
"It sounds to me like we're expected to provide a budget for our budget hearing, and I think the appropriate thing to do is to provide a budget," said board member Jenny Hill of District 6. "More information is more helpful in a time of uncertainty, and for them to have our numbers, and know what we're anticipating in a lean year in a balanced budget, I think is good governance."
Joe Smith of District 3 also noted that the commission can always deny an initial project request — like it did during last year's budget cycle when it shot down the district's request for $34 million in additional funding — and tell the board what to expect.
"Then we make those adjustments at that time," Smith said. "If our commissioners want us to re-adjust, then we'll re-adjust."
Despite prodding from other board members for Highlander to reveal which commissioners might be expecting the board to delay a budget proposal, he did not say. Both Hill and board member Karitsa Mosley Jones of District 5 said they had not heard from their counterparts on the commission regarding the district budget.
"We got through this every year and we're charged with presenting a budget. Go ahead and present the budget and see where it goes from there," Mosley Jones said. "All this going back and forth and off what we think they are going to say, it's absurd."
The board tentatively agreed to call a special meeting Thursday, April 30, to further discuss the budget. The Hamilton County Commission meets next on Wednesday, April 29.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.