The County Commission voted 7-2 on Wednesday morning against moving forward on the hiring of an architect to draw up plans for a new East Brainerd Elementary School.
The vote came after a number of commissioners said they want assurances that the county schools will use the proceeds of the sale of old schools for building new schools or buying property for new schools.
Only Chester Bankston and Greg Beck voted for a resolution that would have put architect Vance Travis to work on designing the school at the site of the former David Brainerd School. The county schools are still using the old East Brainerd Elementary on East Brainerd Road, while putting some of the students from the school at the David Brainerd campus.
The motion voted down by the commission would have rescinded a June 6 commission resolution that put a halt to new school projects until the commission got a plan from the county schools on the school building program and learned what would happen with funds from the sale of the valuable East Brainerd Elementary property.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger urged the commission to proceed with the architect approval, saying there would be opportunities later to deal with the funds issue.
But Commissioner Tim Boyd said, "We still don't have a clue about the school building program. We are three blind mice."
Commissioner Fred Skillern said if the commission had rescinded the earlier resolution "we would have been saying 'we were just trying to bluff you and it didn't work.'"
Coiunty Schools official Gary Waters said the commissioners had been shown a building program that includes a phase one. He said the school board is completely dependent upon the County Commission for funding the new schools. He said the timetable depended on the commission.
County Mayor Coppinger agreed that due to funding uncertainties that it would be difficult to set a timetable for the school building program and it would "raise the expectations of communities" that might not be able to be fulfilled.
He noted there had been $255 million in county funding for new schools since 2006, though Commissioner Warren Mackey said other nearby counties were building schools, while Hamilton County was "fumbling around."
Mr. Waters said the most recent $50 million provided by the county was going for new elementary schools at Ooltewah and East Brainerd.
The commission was told that funds from the sale of property normally go to the owner, and the current Ooltewah Elementary and East Brainerd Elementary sites are titled with the county schools.
But Commissioner Joe Graham said the county also to have a lock on those funds to assure the money is spent on school capital projects.
Commissioner Skillern, a former school board member, said the school board had "a bad habit of using one-time money for recurring expenses."
There was controversy earlier about the East Brainerd School property when a three-way deal was worked out involving that site. The deal included the county schools, the city of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Housing Authority. Under the deal, the county schools were to end up with the former Poss Homes property by Howard School for use for that campus. However, the latter transaction has never taken place.
Supt. Rick Smith recently said he was going to leave that issue to the newly elected school board.
Mr. Waters said the plan was to let the county real property department go out for proposals on sale of the two school sites.