School Board Approves $674 Million Budget With $2,800 Pay Increases

  • Friday, June 21, 2024
  • Hannah Campbell

The Hamilton County School Board narrowly voted Thursday night to submit a $674 million budget to the County Commission, asking for $32 million for teacher salaries and a compensation study.

The board then voted to give teachers a flat raise of $2,800, shooting down the 5 percent option. Larry Grohn, Faye Robinson, Rhonda Thurman and Chairman Joe Smith voted “no” to Version 1. Those four and Joe Wingate voted against the flat raise of $2,800.

The approved Version 1 budget was first presented at the school board’s May meeting but the vote was deferred to June 20.

At the budget committee meeting June 6, Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson had presented a more modest Version 2 budget, which lowered raises to 3 percent or a flat $1,750, and cut a $5-million compensation study and $1 million in added staffing. Version 2’s total request to the County Commission was just $18 million. 

Chairman Smith voted “no” Thursday because he said county commissioners did not seem amicable to $32 million after a meeting with the commission’s education committee.

“My perception was we weren’t going to get that,” Chairman Smith said.

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp had since offered schools one-time funding of $5 million instead, for increases in teacher salaries.

“That’s a win,” said Chairman Smith, who has served eight years on the school board. He said a one-off request for $34 million in fiscal year 2020 was also denied, setting a precedent. Before the vote the board members discussed their motives.

“Our job is to ask... for what we need,” said school board finance committee Chairman Marco Perez.
“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room” said board member Jill Black. “This is just what education costs.”

“I plan to vote for what we should have voted for last month,” said board member Ben Connor.
But board member Gary Kuehn said voting for Version 1 will cause trouble. “We’ve been told that that’s just going to delay the process,” he said.

Mr. Grohn, too, said he’d like to see approval by the County Commission “the first time.”

The County Commission will vote to approve its own budget, including the schools budget, this Wednesday, June 26. If it denies the school board’s budget request, the school board may call a special voting session or wait until after the July 4 holiday.

Mr. Perez said the tense budget season had elements of a “smear campaign” which should be forgotten.

“I don’t believe the County Commission doesn’t care about education,” he said.

Board member Rhonda Thurman fired back that raises wouldn’t sting so much if the school system had not created 500 positions this year.

“We create Frankenstein and then we have to feed him,” she said. “You cannot run a budget on one-time money... I’m going to ask the commission for what I think they’ll give us.”

Dr. Robertson answered that even if the 3 percent raise in Version 2 were passed, that would mean an 11 percent raise for teachers over the last three years, and a 21 percent raise for teachers over the last eight years.

“We have done a lot toward compensation,” he said. “We are standing behind teachers.” He said he has also made big strides in working conditions and urged the board to “think realistically about where we are.”

Mr. Grohn said inflation has caused him to lose 22 percent of buying power in his personal retirement accounts over the last six years. Teachers are suffering the same losses with their salaries, he said.

Dr. Robertson answered that “It hurts a school system’s budget more than it hurts our individual homes.”

Regardless of teacher raises in this budget, a state mandate will raise starting teacher salaries to $50,000 by Fall 2026.

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