Zeke Starr and Cari Ellison have been collecting letters to deliver to the Hamilton County Commission office. (Photo: Eric Wise)

UnifiEd volunteers delivered 1,150 letters to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and county commissioners today, in which students and community members expressed support for increased public school funding. 

UnifiEd has been collecting letters for its Fund Hamilton County’s Future campaign for a couple of months.

The batch of letters delivered today couldn’t be mailed before tomorrow’s budget vote by the County Commission.

“We’ve collected over 2,100 letters [for the] county mayor and County Commission in support of increased funding, and today, we delivered the final batch of letters to the mayor’s office and the County Commission office,” Natalie Cook, UnifiEd communication director, said. 

Tomorrow, the commission will vote on whether to approve Coppinger’s proposed budget, which Cook said doesn’t include needed funding for Hamilton County schools.

“The school system sent a balanced budget to the county, but had an addendum list of over $24 million in unfunded priority needs,” she said. “The mayor’s budget does not incorporate any additional funding toward that [addendum list].”

Cari Ellison, an 11-year-old Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy student, said she wanted to get involved in UnifiEd’s effort because extra money would help her school get more art and writing supplies. She said last year they were short.

Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham said Coppinger’s budget is fair.

“It is a good budget that does include increased funding for the schools,” he said. “We are going to increase the school budget by $8 million.”

Graham said this budget not only increases funding for Hamilton County schools but will address problems in the jail system and fund a new court to keep drug users out of jail, offering them help instead.

“I’m not sure how I’ll vote [tomorrow] until I get there,” Graham said.

UnifiEd is hosting a rally at the County Commission meeting to show that the community supports increased funding for schools. Rally attendees will include the UnifiEd executive director, students, parents and teachers.

The rally will begin at 9 a.m. June 21 at the Hamilton County Courthouse, located at 625 Georgia Ave.

“The focus tomorrow is really a final reminder to the County Commission of how the community and their constituents feel,” Zeke Starr, UnifiEd intern and UTC student, said. “Tomorrow’s meeting is a chance for the community to say this isn’t just letters; this is real people, these are our kids, and these are our lives.”

Eric Wise is a contributing writer. He is currently attending UTC, where he is the assistant news editor for the school newspaper, The University Echo. He also serves as the alumni relations chairman for his fraternity.