The Hamilton County Board of Education voted to approve the budget for this upcoming fiscal year. It was a majority vote of 8-1. Last week the school board did not approve Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly's budget, which would have required an additional $33.5 million, and a property tax hike.

But they approved a balanced budget, as requested by the county commission, which includes an increase $9-million, and no tax hike.

School board members are asking the county commission for an additional $9 million in funding from last year's budget. The board will also present to the County Commission a "needs" list of $24.5-million.

After months of going back and forth, school board members finally approved the budget for the upcoming school year. “We worked hard to get this done. The board worked hard, the staff worked hard. We want to do the right thing,” said school board member Joe Smith.

The balanced budget is listed at more than $372-million. It includes a 3% pay raise for Hamilton County teachers, who received a two percent increase last year. Only one board member, Rhonda Thurman was opposed.

“We are not an arm of the teachers union. It is not our job. Their job is to negotiate with what we can come up with additional funds or additional money. Big chunk of change for $7.8 million in raises when we have so many needs in our schools,” said school board member, Rhonda Thurman.

But Kathy Lennon disagreed. She said to have more successful students we need to invest in our teachers.

“We will recruit better teachers," Lennon said. "We spend a lot of time on our transportation and increasing pay for our transportation. We have to do the same for our teachers.”

The budget also includes money for the new Durham School Services bus contract, pay for 30 bus attendants, and more money for contracted bus drivers.

Dr. Steve Highlander presented the balanced budget to the county commission earlier this week. But he hopes they will also study the so-called wish list, and find more money to meet those needs.

“I hope they will do the very best they can, I am sure they will, to meet the needs of the kids. When they see exactly what it is going to be spent on it may make a difference on whether they can reallocate funds from other areas,” said school board chair man Doctor Steve Highlander.

The county commission will hold a work session on May 9th to discuss the school budget, with a final decision expected by late June.