published Friday, March 14th, 2014

Hamilton County Schools look to boost budget

Hamilton County Schools headquarters
Hamilton County Schools headquarters
Photo by Staff File Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Schools will look to spend an additional $750,000 next year to continue two programs, now that grant funding has lapsed.

In the first look at the 2015 budget, central office officials suggested an additional $600,000 to fund middle school coaches and an extra $150,000 for college access advisers at high schools. Those programs previously were funded jointly from the school system and respective grants from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Public Education Foundation.

The added costs to maintain the programs were just one piece of an expected $8 million increase in spending for the next budget year.

Some of the other cost increases include:

• $4 million in increasing health insurance costs

• $264,62 to add four teachers at the STEM School

• $180,000 to add three English as a Second Language teachers

• $108,103 to fund a 2 percent salary increase and an extra operating day for contracted bus drivers

The school system expects to see an increase in revenue from county property taxes, local sales taxes and state education funding.

But Christie Jordan, director of accounting and budgeting, said the expected increase won't cover the $8 million needed to meet rising expenses. So she's proposed the school system take about $2 million from its reserve fund to cover the shortfall.

Altogether, the general purpose budget is projected to reach $343 million next year. Last spring that budget was set at about $338 million. The general purpose budget does not include accounts for food service, federal programs and self-funded programs. Collectively, all four budgets reach about $400 million.

School board member Rhonda Thurman said the school system shouldn't automatically continue programs once grant funding expires. She cited the quote from former President Ronald Reagan: "The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program."

She said programs like the middle school initiative are unproven and should be studied before the school system takes on additional expense to keep them. "We don't know if they work," Thurman said. "We continue to do them because we've always done them."

Board member Greg Martin asked if the school system had cut funding, programs or people in recent years. Because it's easy to let staff levels slowly increase.

"It's always easier to add than to subtract," he said.

School officials said they have endured years worth of budget cuts in the face of inflating expenses.

"For four years in a row, we decreased central office staff," Jordan said. "I can go in and literally name people that were in my building over there that are no longer there."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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