School Board To Ask To Get Bigger Share Of County Revenue; Dr. Robertson Gets $30,000 Raise, Contract Extension

  • Friday, April 19, 2024
  • Hannah Campbell

The Hamilton County School Board will ask county commissioners to raise the percentage of county property taxes allocated to schools from 43 percent to 49 percent this fiscal year. Board members discussed preliminary budget numbers at the April meeting Thursday night.

“We’ve taken our eye off the ball in terms of local funding,” said Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. “There’s an ask that’s in there,” he said.

Schools received 54 percent of property taxes in 2008 and 49 percent in 2017, it was stated. Though the dollar amount has increased, it “doesn’t really match the cost,” said finance committee chairman Marco Perez.

Dr. Roberson said 25 percent of the district’s budget comes from property tax.

“We’re getting less of the milage rate,” Dr. Robertson said. “That makes a huge difference, and that’s what we’re talking about.”

Mr. Perez said costs of prisons and infrastructure have eaten away at the school’s percentage, but that the commission should recommit itself to its historic high.

“We are asking the commission to come back and fund at that level,” Mr. Perez said. “I believe the commission is committed to public education. I believe the commission is committed to this community,” he said.

The school district wants to be sure it recoups funding for capital improvement projects. It had designated $10 million in last year’s budget but ended up with $2 million after the County Commission pulled $6 million to issue as a bond, promising $65 million to $75 million for capital improvements later.

“We need to find more than $2 million,” said board member Gary Kuehn.

Dr. Robertson said the bond should be issued this summer, in time for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

The board voted Thursday to renew Dr. Robertson’s contract with a raise through 2028, despite the budget what-ifs that depend on the County Commission.

Board member Rhonda Thurman voted against the renewal, reasoning that “I just don’t like spending money we don’t have in our hand first.” But “I love Justin to death,” she said.

“We’ve renewed contracts early and sometimes it has not worked out real well, in the past,” Ms. Thurman said.

“You never know what the commission is going to do anyway so, I mean, why put it off?” asked board member Karitsa Jones.

The new contract shifts Dr. Roberton’s contract from the calendar year to the fiscal year and gives him a raise of $30,000 annually, bringing his salary to $255,000. His old contract would have expired in December 2025.

“We brought Dr. Robertson in at a low level because he convinced us that he wanted the opportunity to prove to us that he could lead this district, and he’s done just that,” said board Chairman Joe Smith. Mr. Smith said the new contract is more fair for the job, and it includes regular raises all other salaried employees were already entitled to.

“Everyone is proud of Dr. Robertson’s performance,” he said. “Hope he’ll be with us for years to come.”

A budget overview presented by Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Heuton revealed that final district revenue is down $40 million this year but operating revenue is up by $40 million. She said$54 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds expired this year after three years, but the district has a strategy to help the numbers add up.

The final district revenue for FY25 is $673,851,827.

Dr. Robertson said the district will save $20 million by waiting until next year to buy new science textbooks. It will save another $2 million by filling open positions from within and leaving the vacancies unfilled.

Dr. Robertson recommended spending $31 million to increase compensation: Raising starting teacher salaries from $45,300 to $50,000 before the state’s 2027 deadline, and giving current employees raises of five percent or $2,800.

The board voted to approve the 2025-2026 calendar, with a start date of July 31, 2025.

“That will happen every so often if we want to also end by Memorial Day,” said Shannon Moody, chief strategy officer.

The board voted to amend the 2024-2025 calendar to include two full professional development days instead of four half-days, after a new survey of about 2,500 teachers and parents. The 2025-2026 calendar has the two full professional development days, too.

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