A new television ad urging citizens to support a tax increase for more funding for Knox County Schools is set to hit airwaves Friday.
The ad, which was created and posted to YouTube by the "Support Our Schools" group, will be reworked for television.
"This proposal incorporates transparency, accountability and specific goals," the ad states. "It just makes sense."
Viewers are encouraged to call their commissioners to voice support for the proposed tax increase that would fund the school district's $35 million budget request.
Several community leaders have come together to fund the television ad, including: Randy Boyd, president and CEO of Radio Systems; Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes; Mitch Steenrod, CFO of Pilot Travel Centers; Mike West, managing partner with Northshore Management Co.; and Rodney Lawler, founder of Lawler-Wood.
"To me, it's a no-brainer to support the slight tax increase that is directed specifically to schools because better schools help economic development, which keeps property taxes low in the long-term," Clayton told 10News. "By not investing in schools, that guarantees no growth and higher tax rates down the road."
Clayton and others contributed through The Partnership Initiatives Fund, a non-profit branch of the Knoxville Chamber.
The group will pay WBIR $16,050 to air the ads, give another $14,673 for cable time and a combined $11,310 for the ad to be aired on two other local stations.
"Our job is to try to convince others that it's true so that the commission will do what it's gotta do," said Mike Edwards, the chamber's president and CEO. "There's a lot that has to happen in addition to this money, but we know after working with this for five years and with this budget, that we will not improve outcomes for students -- and that's all it's about -- without this money. There's other stuff that has to happen, but without this money, it won't happen, and we know that."
Edwards defended the PIF's involvement in the advertising, pointing out that most chambers have similar branches used for charitable causes and that the funding is never used in political campaigns.
"It is not something that we would use it for the purposes of getting involved in an election," he said. "This is not an election, this is a vote on county commission, and we're using the fund very appropriately to educate the citizenry so that they can make their views known, pro or against, to their county commissioner. It is a very appropriate use for this money."
The ads come just days after Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's robo calls to citizens, asking them to urge their commissioners to vote against the funding increase.
One of those 'no' votes will likely come from Commissioner Jeff Ownby.
"This is just not the right time in this sluggish economy that we're still in," Ownby said. "I would be for putting a sales tax -- Dr. (Richard) Briggs' proposal -- putting a sales tax on the referendum and letting the citizens vote, and if it passes, it passes. I think a sales tax could get us to where we need to be to fund the schools, but we've also got to think about the sheriff's department that's wanting raises again, so if you give them this, what are we going to tell the sheriff's department. We're going to have to raise property taxes 55, 60 cents."
Tuesday afternoon, administrators in the commission office started keeping a running tally of calls from people voicing their opinion on the proposed funding increase.
Those calls were initially prompted by the mayor's robo calls, and administrators say the vast majority were from people voicing their opposition to a tax increase.
However, after an email from the "Support Our Schools" group began circulating Thursday, the tide had started to change.
By late afternoon Thursday, 225 had called in to voice their support for the school funding, while 452 had phoned in their opposition.
Regardless of position, Ownby said he was not supportive of those campaigns.
"The whole robo calls and that sort of thing, I just wish they would have used their money elsewhere and just let people make up their own mind about the budget," he said.
The commissioners are now set to vote on the issue June 4.