In 7-2 vote, Hamilton County School Board approves 2020 budget proposal

(Image: WTVC)

A budget proposal that could bring millions of dollars into Hamilton County schools has passed the school board Thursday night.

Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson wants to bring in an additional $34 million to help with teacher raises and emotional support for students.

Despite some board members being against the proposed budget, it passed 7 to 2.

Dr. Johnson wants to open 350 new positions open 350 new positions for social workers, counselors and special needs instructors.

"I am just thrilled for the possibility this presents for Hamilton County students. It has been a long time coming," said Jenny Hill, Hamilton County School Board Member.

But not everyone was on board with the budget.

"This is just too much. I've seen too many of these kinds of increases, and its always for the children, who else is it for? Its for schools,," said Rhonda Thurman, Hamilton County School Board Member.

Thurman was one of two commissioners who voted against the budget increase

She likes aspects of the proposal, like eliminating general education fees, but sided with Dr. Steve Highlander saying possible tax increases could burden some taxpayers.

"I've had 20 some odd calls from senior citizens and its tearing my heart out. [A] widow called and said I couldn't pay my taxes last year without doing without my medicine," said Highlander.

Dr. Highlander "reluctantly voted against the budget."

He urged the county commission to make exemptions for senior citizens, if they decide to fund the budget with a tax increase.

"Elderly people are not going to be affected if there is a tax increase, and I thought that was valuable information. If they do a tax increase its a dinner every month. Who can do without a dinner every month? I can."" said Kathy Lennon, a Hamilton County School Board Member.

But this isn't a done deal.

To go into effect, it'll need the green light from Hamilton County Commissioners.

"When you go to the schools in my district, many of which are over 100 years old, with original windows, lead paint pealing off of them, covered with rust, areas that aren't handicap accessible, difficulty staffing, I think its something we'll have to consider there's no question about it," said David Sharpe, a Hamilton County Commissioner.

Commissioner Sharpe says while he sees the need for boosting public education, finding the funds will be the challenge.

He needs to time hear from his constituents before he casts his vote.

Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson is set to present his budget to the County Commission at next Tuesday's budget workshop.

The County Mayor will then compare the school and county budgets and make a presentation to commissioners on June 5.

Then, the commission will have 21 days to evaluate the budget.

The official vote will be on June 26.

Superintendent Johnson told us he had no comment on Thursday's vote.

According the Hamilton County's website, some people would qualify for tax relief or be exempt altogether from a property tax increase.

The site says certain people who are disabled, over the age of 65, most disabled veterans, and people meeting certain income restrictions would qualify.

Below is NewsChannel 9's coverage Thursday, prior to the vote:

Superintendent Bryan Johnson says part of the increase to make classrooms more inclusive. $5,500 are set aside to hire 10 more special education teachers and 30 assistants.

According to the Department of Education, 40% of Hamilton County students with special needs are in typical classrooms. Two years ago, it was 16%.

Other topics included in the budget proposal include paying teachers more and hiring more counselors and social workers.

The budget now heads to the county commission for approval.

During the commission's Wednesday night meeting, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said it's too early to tell whether the additional money for the school budget would come from a property tax increase.

"I realize the painful part of any kind of tax increase. We take that extremely seriously. Always have. I've never been someone who was in favor of the tax increase," said Mayor Coppinger Wednesday.

Dr. Johnson will present the budget to the commission on Tuesday, May 14. Commissioners are scheduled to vote for the county's budget on June 26.

This is a developing story - depend on us to update is as we learn more.

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