We can all think of at least one teacher who made a tremendous impact on our lives. We can all remember the lessons they taught us, and the decisions they helped guide us through. We can all recall how they pushed us to be the absolute best version of ourselves, even when we didn’t necessarily know what that meant. That teacher was our champion.
On Thursday, the Hamilton County School Board will request an additional $34 million for our annual operating budget. If passed by the Hamilton County Commission, this will be the first operational increase outside of yearly growth money since 2005. Yes, you read that correctly: the first budget increase for our students’ school system in over 14 years. It is no secret that Hamilton County Schools have been below standards over the past decade. We have failed to give our students the education they deserve. We have failed to provide them support outside of the classroom. We have failed to make sure they are prepared for life after high school.
I’m a fan of numbers, data, and statistics so believe me, there is plenty available to support this claim. But I also know we have failed them because I was one of the students. I didn’t get the best education possible, and I was woefully unprepared for my collegiate career when I graduated in 2013. I did not have the resources and support that every Hamilton County student deserves.
But, like so many of us, I had a champion. I was fortunate to have a champion who pushed me. A champion who helped me when they didn’t have to. A champion who listened when no one else did. We currently have over 3,600 champions in our district and as our student population grows, we will need more. We must make sure that we can not only retain the champions we have, but also recruit the best champions possible.
Over the last eight months, the Hamilton County School Board has made unprecedented moves to ensure we have a strategic vision of the direction we want to move this school system in with Dr. Johnson at the helm. This budget proposal reflects those changes. The proposed budget provides us with increased counselors, social workers, truancy officers, and full-time college career advisors. Most notably, this budget proposal includes a 5% pay increase for teachers across the county.
Hamilton County takes pride in being home to problem solvers, go-getters and innovators. We solved our “Dirtiest City in America” problem. The Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Riverfront have put us on the national map for innovative and livable towns. We were both problem solvers, innovators and go-getters when we brought Volkswagen to Hamilton County. All of those things have been defining moments in our history, and they all have one more thing in common: they each took community investment. With this investment our county’s image was transformed. It’s time, Hamilton County, to transform the way we look at education. It’s time we come together and demand a better school system for our students and teachers. It’s time we as a community actively decide to invest in education.
This increase for operational funds will require a tax increase to fund it. Again, this is something our community hasn’t experienced in over 14 years, and it’s causing our schools and our students to fall behind. It will take bold and visionary leadership by our County Commissioners and County Mayor. It will take transparency and accountability by our school system, and it will take the community investing in our students.
Our teachers have always been champions for children, and now we have the opportunity to be a champion for both. So, let’s do it. Let’s be Champions.
_ Tucker McClendon, District 8 School Board Member