Roy Exum: How Fairyland Is Punished

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It makes absolutely no sense that Fairyland Elementary School is the only school in Walker County, Ga., that receives no federal funding. And only because the percentage of children who receive reduced or free lunches is not higher, it literally costs the school and the 203 children who go there hundreds of thousands of dollars each year that taxpayers in the same Lookout Mountain community pay to help other Georgia schools.

Fairyland was named as a “Model School” by the state this August, an honor that decrees Fairyland is once again the top performing elementary school in the northwest part of the state, yet the PTO is believed to be the only one in the state that pays for salaries and services no other elementary school has to worry about.

“Our entire educational system is broken,” said PTO vice president Caroline Williams yesterday. “Walker County’s budget for education was cut $7.5 million this year – 10 percent – and that directly affects our children. Until the state realizes that education is important, Georgia will remain one of the worst states for educating our young in the entire country.”

But nowhere in the state is the pain as severe as at Fairyland, a beautiful school in a healthy community that annually produces test scores that are among the best in Georgia. “It’s as though we are punished for being good,” said PTO president Melanie Mercer, “and Walker County education superintendent Damon Rains will agree with that.

“He can only give federal money to schools that qualify. A state law forbids our Town from supplementing the school like the Town of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee does for Lookout Mountain Elementary, so our hands are tied. We have no place to help pay for a school nurse, a full-time secretary or many other needs that are essential to education,” the former University of Georgia tennis star explained.

So what Melanie and Caroline have done is appealed to the community. The PTO has started an Education Fund but, instead of supplying perks for the school like most PTOs around the country, Fairyland is constantly struggling to makes ends meet. Other elementary schools in the county are able to use federal funds to offset the county budget cuts but at Fairyland the parents’ organization is now scrambling to fill those needs.

The two PTO officers feel the blame clearly belongs to its state representatives, state Rep. John Deffenbaugh (who once had a child attend Fairyland) and state Senator Jeff Mullis. “We believe any state representative who doesn’t stand up for education shouldn’t be in office. Nothing is more important to our future and when the county budget is cut 10 percent that is pretty serious.”

Educators across Georgia are heartened that Governor Nathan Deal will be challenged by state school superintendent John Barge in 2014. “By Barge being in the race, education in Georgia will play a prominent role at the polls,” Williams explained, “and anyone with a child in school will watch the state and local races closely. All we are asking is that our children be considered; nothing is more important than their education.”

She explained when Austerity Cuts took place in Georgia in 2003, the state’s Department of Education took such a hit the state now owes the department one billion dollars. “Can you imagine doing that to the state’s children?” said Mercer. “Right now teachers in Walker County are forced to take eight furlough days a year and they have cut the school year from 180 days to 168 days. That’s illegal but they got a waiver. How do we get a waiver for federal funds?”

An election will be held in Georgia this Nov. 5 to determine how “Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax” will be disbursed and, according to Mercer, the outcome could be a Godsend. “Right now it can only be used for capital improvements. Not long ago they came and renovated our gym, which was nice, but we need teachers and staff much worse. We hope for a good turnout at the polls.”

More than that, the Fairyland mothers want Georgia voters to focus on who gets elected next November. “We have to study those who are running and determine their commitment to education. Politicians will say they give 56 percent to education but we aren’t talking about the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. We are talking about our elementary and secondary schools.”

The fact Signal Mountain now has a junior and senior high school has hurt both Lookout Mountain communities because both Tennessee and Georgia students must go to middle and high schools elsewhere. “We dream of starting a middle school at Fairyland, going through the eighth grade and inviting interested families who live in Tennessee to pay a small tuition,” said Mercer, “but right now we are being slammed because we don’t quite qualify for federal funding.

“That’s not fair to our children. We are at a disadvantage yet we pay taxes just like everybody else. We are proud to live in Walker County, but we aren’t being treated fairly and that is wrong.”

royexum@aol.com


Collegedale's Wreck Problem

Re: Speed Limits Being Lowered On Main Collegedale Thoroughfare  I just read your story on Collegedale lowers speed limit for main thoroughfare.  It's funny the city claims they will have TDOT put up dangerous intersection signs, because last summer when it was stated in a story (possibly not by your company) that they were dropping the speed limit from 55 to 50 on ... (click for more)

A New Beginning For A Healthier Life

The advent of Spring brings a time of fresh starts and new beginnings, and what better time to make the decision to quit smoking?  Smoking is a serious problem in Chattanooga and across our state. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 17 percent of adult Americans smoke or use tobacco products regularly. In Tennessee, that number increases significantly ... (click for more)

County Commission Told To Fully Fund County Schools Improvement Request Would Take 28 1/2-Cent Property Tax Increase; 78 School Personnel Would Be Added

County Mayor Jim Coppinger told members of the County Commission at a budget workshop on Tuesday that it would take a 28 1/2-cent property tax increase to fully fund the county school budget request. The county schools are asking for $24,218,919 in new money for a focus on workforce readiness, literacy and low-performing schools. County Mayor Coppinger did not say whether ... (click for more)

Judge Poole Rules In Favor Of State On Billy Hawk Murder Cold Case Motions

Criminal Court Judge Don Poole has ruled that the state can introduce at the murder trial of Billy Hawk testimony about his alleged drug involvement with the victim in the case, Johnny Mack Salyer. Hawk is charged in the 1981 murder of Salyer, whose body was found in a 55-gallon drum in the Tennessee River. The witnesses indicated that Salyer was cooperating in the drug case ... (click for more)

Chattanooga FC Hosts Inter-Squad Scrimmage Saturday

Chattanooga FC will hold an Inter-squad match Saturday, May 7th, 7:00pm at Finley Stadium. The event is open to the public and free for all who attend.  The 2016 roster is set! The Inter-squad match will be the first chance for fans to see their CFC team in action. After the game, everyone will have the opportunity to get autographs, take photos, and talk with players, ... (click for more)

Baylor's Kayla Hughes Named FCA Christian Athlete Of The Year

Baylor School softball star, Kayla Hughes, was named the Greater Chattanooga FCA’s Christian Athlete of the Year at the ministry’s annual Day of Champions Sunday afternoon at Ridgedale Baptist Church.  Hughes, who will continue her softball career at Tennessee Tech, was chosen from among twelve high school FCA senior leaders nominated by area schools.  This is the 53rd ... (click for more)