Knox County Commissioners are weighing the school system's multi-million dollar request for increased funding.
Officials with the district presented their case Tuesday for an additional $35 million, to be used for a variety of education initiatives that include building improvements, student technology devices, increased instruction time, and expanded performance pay for teachers.
A number of commissioners offered support for increased funding and the need to change the current approach to education.
Mike Brown (9th District) said the county is "on the brink of doing something that has people excited."
Sam McKenzie (1st District) echoed Brown's statement.
"This really is a transforming moment," he said. "What I feel the superintendent, and the school board is trying to do, they're trying to take us from this step and change our trajectory, and say 'We can do this in a shorter period of time in terms of our student learning and achievement'."
Mayor Tim Burchett declined to fully fund the district's request in his budget proposal. Instead, he offered a $13 million increase for "natural revenue growth", which the school board requested, coupled with $3 million to be used for a targeted reading program for Kindergarten through third grades.
"I applaud the mayor for that, and I think $16 million is not an insignificant amount," said Tony Norman (3rd District). Norman, a former teacher, questions the district's spending on central office personnel and feels they could realize significant savings through cuts.
Community members, teachers, and business owners took turns urging commissioners to fully fund the district's request. Doing so would require a sales or property tax increase.
Not all of the public comment favored the district.
"I appreciate the mayor's budget proposal, I support the budget, and I do not support a property tax increase," said Rebecca Forgety, whose family runs King's Word Books in Halls. She told commissioners a property tax increase would force her small business to close.
"When you budget out every dollar you have, to the dollar, to meet your family's needs, there aren't any extra dollars to buy your can of Coke," she said. "There's not those extra dollars to take your family out to eat. Those are luxuries, those are not necessities."
The two groups will hold a joint meeting May 22 to again address the budget. A vote could come on May 30.