County Schools Outline $33 Million In Reductions To Balance Budget; Teacher Raise Goes From 5% To 2.5%

Thursday, July 11, 2019

County School officials on Thursday outlined $33 million in reductions, including cutting a planned five percent teacher raise to 2.5 percent.

School officials had sought a $443 million budget through a 34-cent property tax increase, but the County Commission did not go along in a 5-4 vote.

The new balanced budget is at $410 million. The current budget is $390 million.

Brent Goldberg, finance director, said some good news is that sales tax revenue should be $1 million higher than thought earlier and property taxes $100,000 higher.

A number of new positions that school officials had proposed will not be in the revised budget. Mr. Goldberg said $10 million in reductions from the proposed budget includes cutting 28 reading interventionists in all elementary schools, 16.5 student suspension monitors, 15 attendance specialists, 15 social workers, five special education teachers, 15 special education assistants, four ESL teachers, five technology integration specialists, six assistant principals, five regular education teachers, six clerical support, nine elementary content lead teachers and RTI lead teachers, allocations for art and music supplies and resource allocations for learning communities.  

A reduction of another $9 million includes cutting from the proposed spending the Hamilton County Promise program, early post secondary opportunities, advance coursework, five art teachers, 12 college and career advisors, two Future Ready Institute coaches, four middle school VW labs, four high school VW labs (existing VW labs will continue), a grant facilitator, two computer technicians, library ebook subscription, student technology funding and employee technology funding.

Another $10 million reduction from the proposed spending includes the lower teacher raise and cutting two additional professional development days from the teacher calendar, expansion of new teacher academy, 31 intervention/instructional coaches, stipends for school based mentors, incentives for hard to staff positions, professional development for school leaders, substitute staffing reorganization and an applicant tracking system.

A savings of $1.2 million is from cut in allocation in lieu of school fees ($850,000) and partially restore general instruction fees, and cut technology for parent and community engagement. Mr. Goldberg said, "We are going to have to put some level of school fees back in place."

Other measures include cut transportation for Future Ready Institutes, technology equipment investments, five technology personnel, 17 maintenance personnel and five bus monitors for the Opportunity Zone. 

Board Chairman Joe Wingate said the school system had been making strides under new leadership and he indicated it could have done much more with the requested funds. He said doing less "puts a threshold on our quality of life and restricts all of us."

He said, "I love conflict," but he advised board members to focus on what they can do with the school system instead of sparring with County Commission members who opposed the school budget.

Board member Joe Smith had the idea of asking County Commission members to help the board in deciding what reductions to make. Board member Jenny Hill disagreed, saying, "That;s not their job."

Ms. Hill said the group of $10 million in reductions was "ddeply sobering" and the $9 million in cuts were "deeply disappointing."

The board discussed the $600,000 the schools have to pay the city in stormwater fees. Board member Steve Highlander said no other government is required to pay fees. Mr. Goldberg said the city's position is that the schools have over 80 buildings with a number of large parking lots.

Board member Rhonda Thurman said she would oppose putting back any school fees that had been removed earlier. But some board members said cutting the fees was not a priority with them.

Supt. Bryan Johnson said his highest priority was providing young students with reading help. Ms. Thurman disagreed, saying, "I'm embarrassed that we have a $400 million budget and can't teach children to read." She said she believes the main issue may be the curriculum and that adding a number of reading specialists might compound the problem.  

The board will further discuss the budget at a work session next week.

The County Commission is unable to take any action on its budget until getting the revised request back from the schools. The new fiscal year started July 1.

Some county groups are going unpaid until the budget is finalized.


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