published Friday, May 11th, 2012

Hamilton County Schools budget meets little resistance

BY THE NUMBERS

• Fiscal year 2013 projected revenue for Hamilton County schools:

• $315.1 million: Starting revenue

• $4.1 million: Hamilton county property tax growth

• $2.25 million: Local sales tax

• $4.8 million: State Basic Education Program

• $117,095: Early Intervention Service increase

• $8,431: Pre-K lottery state funds increase

• -$257,530: Career Ladder program decrease

• $326,099,744: Total projected revenue

• One-time payment-in-lieu-of-taxes revenue

• Fiscal 2011: $1.1 million

• Fiscal 2012: $3.6 million

• Total projected funds available: $330.8 million

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education

Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith headed off possible critics when he presented this year's $330.8 million general purpose budget request to county commissioners.

"At this time we are presenting a budget with a request for no additional revenue," he stated moments after he stepped to the podium Thursday. He explained that the proposed budget would fully fund capital maintenance and restore $500,000 from $1.5 million cut from the maintenance budget last year.

Commissioners spent Thursday afternoon discussing the schools budget, which made up more than half of the county's budget this fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Even Commissioner Fred Skillern, a vocal critic of how the school system manages money, praised Smith for not asking for a budget increase. "I want to thank you for this budget," Skillern said.

Commissioner Joe Graham echoed that statement but still questioned the schools' use of $4.7 million in payment-in-lieu-of-tax revenues that commissioners agreed to turn over in February.

"I'm using the property tax funds ... to educate students," Smith said. "It's costing us about $5 million a year to educate additional students" since the PILOT agreements were negotiated.

Graham wanted the PILOT funds to go toward capital projects and maintenance or "growth." He suggested the funds are not being used to pay for growth associated with the businesses that pay them, like Volkwagen and Amazon.

"If I understand you correctly, you're going to take that PILOT money and continue using it like you do other monies," Graham asked. "So it won't go toward any growth or new buildings or projects?"

"Mr. Graham, I think a thousand-students' increase is growth," Smith said.

This year's enrollment is 42, 500, he said. Smith said he expects 400 additional students next year.

Graham replied, "Well, it is growth ... but it's not been a thousand students in the last six or seven years."

Graham said school revenues have gone up about $70 million in those years from growth money and state increases.

Smith explained the state's Basic Education Program (BEP) 2.0 funding formula, which will contribute about $128 million to county schools during the 2013 fiscal year, up $4.8 million from this year. If the state fully funded the program, Hamilton County would rake in an additional $12.5 million, Smith said.

Commissioner Greg Beck inquired about the future of textbooks in the digital age.

"What you're going to see rapidly in this county is a shift from paper texts to some sort of online," Smith said.

Within the next few years every student in the county will take state assessments online, he said. "We'll get the results almost instantly," Smith said.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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