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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Howard School teacher Ashley Cox, center, shares some of her ideas. Hamilton County Schools senior leadership team and Superintendent Bryan Johnson held a community listening sessions to gain insight on the community's priorities at the Howard School on February 18, 2020.

I guess my question has to be, "Why?"

Not, "Why does the University of Alabama win every year in football?" That answer is easy. Nick Saban.

Not, "Why is grass green?" Again, easy. That's chlorophyll.

Not, "Why are more than one moose still moose but more than one goose is geese?" That's the endless confusion of the English language.

My "Why" question this morning is this: Can someone tell me why the school district was so hot to trot for a tax increase this time last year? And, moreover, why some politicians almost bought it?

The answer cannot be, "Well, we want to fund great public education" anymore. We all want good-to-great public education.

All of us, whether your child goes to Brainerd or Baylor, to Signal to Silverdale, to CCA or CCS or Calvin Donaldson. That's like world peace and ending world hunger.

Great public education benefits everything and everyone in our fair city. And no matter how many times phrases like "Kick the can down the road" or "think of the kids" get bounced around, we all want our schools to excel.

Maybe school district officials and most members of the Hamilton County Board of Education stuck their hands out because of timing. Strike now. Strike while there's momentum and the rare good test score result. Strike before the details about our facilities needs come into clearer focus.

But thinking through the why is more important now given that we have seven months of hindsight to consider.

The headlines are hard to ignore.

* The school system still got a record amount of money from the county without the $30-plus-million property tax increase.

* The school system found several million in its coffers because of savings and overflow and reallocated that money to staff, too.

* The school system was able to hire 180 new employees. (Was it the 320-plus it wanted? Uh, no. But someone point out a business anywhere that added 180 new positions without having a flush bottom line.)

(MORE: Teachers call out commissioners who voted against more funding for public schools, teacher pay)

* Teachers, who were used as pawns in the budget negotiations, were placated with a one-time bonus before the school year started.

* Then, the system was able to find another few million dollars in savings after the first semester and announced 2.5 percent raises for school system employees.

* And now we learn that there's enough money to give Dr. Bryan Johnson a sizable raise and a contract extension.

Let me get this straight: The school system receives more money from the county, teachers got a bonus and now a pay raise. And the superintendent, who according to board members and others in the community has found success, is getting a monster raise.

Again, the merits for and the rationale behind those decisions are for another day. We all want our teachers to make more. We all want our public school kids to do well. We all want our superintendent to be so good he is coveted around the region and the country.

(MORE: Hamilton County teachers call on school board to approve Superintendent Bryan Johnson's new contract, raise)

That's not my question; in fact almost no one is questioning any of those talking points.

My question centers on the reality that all of that was done in seven months, and it was done without a tax increase.

Hmmmmm. Why, indeed — or maybe even "How" in terms of how much else can be done under the current budget.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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