Roy Exum: The School Board Bullies

Sunday, November 19, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When the good people of Signal Mountain join with their loved ones to give thanks for many, many blessings on this hallowed Thursday, you can bet the Hamilton County Department of Education will be on nary a list. For the past year a diligent advisory committee has studied the feasibility of forming its own school district and exactly one week prior to Thanksgiving, the misguided School Board has given the town perhaps the best reason to leave.

With the unabashed stance of some punk bully, the board voted 7-to-1 not to sell the existing school buildings on the mountain. Never mind that nobody wants to buy them at this point, some real deep thinker created a last-minute item on the board’s agenda that smacks of the pettiness and never-ending stupidity that has resulted in Hamilton County’s downfall in public education.

A lot of people are working very hard to lift the HCDE out of the muck-and-mire. County Mayor Jim Coppinger just enjoyed his finest moment with a $125 million windfall for the badly-neglected system. A promising new superintendent is making strides towards repairing the rotten core after the last three superintendents each left prematurely. And the fact there is some bright new leadership gives the Most Valuable Players – our teachers – fresh hope.

But instead of reaching out to Signal leaders in a kind and sincere effort, Thursday’s rebuff was about the worst chess move on the table. It absolutely verifies why parents on Signal Mountain, as well as other areas of the Chattanooga community, are appalled by the HCDE and the way the School Board has not just allowed but unwittingly encouraged this rough ride on the road to ruin.

It took the board a year and a half to hire a new superintendent. Several years ago the state sent $10 million to bolster our failing schools and the School Board had no idea some of the money was never spent. Worse, when the FY2018 county budget was approved, with just a 1.9 percent increase for education, not one school board member dared fight for more.

What’s the matter with these people? Do you know that 60 percent of our third graders can still not read at grade level? The gross and glaring deficiencies listed two years ago in an unbiased report have not gone away. No, and there hasn’t been one backbone to be found since State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen breezed into Chattanooga with full intent of placing five of our worst schools under her totally-inept domain.

It would come as no surprise to watch all five incumbents be replaced in the next election. Public rancor for the School Board is high and, with some whose only action every month is to write “For Deposit Only,” not one person within 50 miles of Chattanooga can’t totally understand that Signal Mountain’s only goal is a better education for its children.

Earlier this year an obviously fraudulent testing method by the state made Thrasher Elementary the “very best” and Nolan Elementary the “very worst.” The two schools have the exact same kids. They are three miles apart. Yet not one school board member said a peep. Not one HCDE employee stood for Nolan or for Signal Middle/High School.

The message was clear to the parents whose children go to those schools: no one in leadership gives a rat’s tail. No one at the county’s Department of Education cares. The tales of neglect by the Central Office for Signal Mountain are brutal and, guess what, when the lawyers call on testimony from other communities within the county, you’ll hear far more ‘hurt’ than ‘help.’

I can promise, with marked verbosity, that if the Town of Signal Mountain decides it wants the school buildings within the town limits, it will be successful. There are dozens of ways they could do it but the easiest route would be to prove Hamilton County’s public education is so incompetent the Mayor has no choice. Go ahead, get the Department of Justice down here and admit on your witness stand that 65 percent of our graduates must take remedial courses at Chattanooga State.

Let’s point out the real difference in the “very good” Thrasher and the “very poor” Nolan is because any and all special needs children are assigned to Nolan. You can file a discrimination brief in 25 words or less. Presto! The Department of Justice can then rent both Thrasher and Nolan to Signal Mountain for $2 a year – Don’t worry, DOJ will own both buildings free and clear because a senseless test mandated by the state is discriminatory. And to think: the test was used originally in a wacky effort to study milk cows!

David Testerman, a longtime principal within the county system, wisely voted against Thursday’s idiotic taunt and Rhonda Thurman, whose wisdom has saved the School Board on several occasions, was absent but I’m thinking she would have also balked at the antagonistic bullying. I have no idea why seven other members voted ‘yes,’ this on a question that has yet to be asked. How do you defend stupid?

But if the seven were children in a county high school at a time I was growing up, each would be called to the office, handed paper and pen, and be tasked with writing a two-page apology immediately or else “this will go on your permanent record.”

To date, I have yet to see my “permanent record,” in any shape or form, but I’ll guarantee you it’s a thick one. Now there are seven members of the Hamilton County School Board who just behaved badly and should be called out as bullies. Yes, this is definitely going in each one’s permanent record.

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