Roy Exum: The Game Changer On Signal Mountain

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Within, oh let’s say a month or so, a new piece will be added to the Signal Mountain education puzzle and I believe it is the winning card (this with due respect for those who dislike the word ‘trump’). Right now the mountain community is in quite a stir as to whether the community’s public schools should form its own independent school district or remain as part of the Hamilton County Department of Education. Believe me, this new development, quite literally, is a game-changer.

Word around the campfire is that an announcement is imminent that 600 new homes will be built on 135 acres out near Boston Branch on top of the mountain. That will add 1,200 children to the community and Signal Mountain’s two elementary schools, and the middle/high school are clearly unable to accommodate such an influx.

It is being whispered the HCDE believes the best solution is to bus these new boys and girls to – you ain’t gonna’ believe this – to schools in the Soddy Daisy community. I’ve got another truth for you -- If you think that is ever going to happen then you’re the one who believes the sign going up Walden’s Ridge that reads “Watch for Falling Rock” is about some crazed Indian chief who is running around named “Falling Rock.”

Up until now there have been three moving parts in the Signal Mountain puzzle: the town proper, the Walden community, and “the unincorporated areas.” Those “unincorporateds” will put up a fight to rival “The Battle above the Clouds” and I can guarantee right now that no child will ever be allowed to be bused off the mountain.

This is why Signal Mountain will definitely form its own school district sooner than later.

The shocker is how much the mountain district and the county district will both benefit. The “Stay in HCDE” folks – each one good to the core – held a meeting at the high school last night that, in candor, was as big a waste of time as the HCDE dog-and-pony show a few months back. The better meeting will be next Monday night when those “for the split” will hold a most-informative meeting.

Monday’s gathering will include “the real truth” from three of the superintendents of communities that split away from the Shelby County Department of Education. Each will share how test scores improved for their districts as well as at the Shelby County schools (!) In addition, the lawyer who guided the new districts in Shelby County will also answer questions.

If HCDE leaders are smart, they will not miss it. The best reason for the HCDE leaders to sit on the front row is they will easily see how the HCDE will fare far better without Signal Mountain’s buildings and children. Yes, I realize few will believe that at this pivotal point in the game but that’s not because of misguided emotion. All three camps in the “moving parts” honestly suffer from a lack-of-education, if you can imagine that, because it has yet to come.

Don’t worry …. The test is still a long way off. That’s because this or that group can hold meetings, gossip, start rumors, whatever … but nothing can be said nor assumed until three huge questions are answered for every single person involved. Let’s look at each:

1) THE CHILDREN – From the very start, Mayor Chris Howley, the town council and the feasibility committee have stood united, like a rock, on the ideal, to cop a phrase, “no child will be left behind.” Right now there are four ideas that will make that happen but there needs to be some fine tuning on each to determine which offers the best solution. Regardless, what you can etch in stone is every child on Walden’s Ridge will be able to attend a public school, including the 1,200 who are going to live near Boston Branch, and will predictably get a better education.

2) THE SCHOOL BUILDINGS – Forget the School Board bullies; Signal Mountain will get the schools. Right now you need to watch what is happening in Williamson County because Brentwood is forming its own school district. The Brentwood crowd is awaiting a court ruling about the schools that will be in its new district. This will impact Signal Mountain’s next move but if you need a hint, the “down low” is Signal Mountain may have already agreed to lease them from Hamilton County to protect the county’s bond rating.

3) TAXES – Man, this is an open canoe in white water. There are existing state laws that, due to the way they were written long ago, need a hard look. Can a tax freeze be supplemented for the entire community’s seniors? What is Brentwood’s solution? If the three school buildings are leased, how do taxes work? It is important that the town, Walden, and the “unincorporated” each pay its share and it is equally important that all three be equally represented on a school board as well as all other decisions, such as No. 1, No.2, and – this No. 3.

What is perplexing is not one HCDE official has met with Signal Mountain mayor Howley or feasibility chairman Dr. John Friedl. Instead, the School Board took the blatant stance of a callous bully at the last meeting, voting 7-1 not to sell the school buildings when – to date -- there is no buyer. Now word has reached furious mountain leaders that the vindictive board members also allegedly changed Hamilton County’s magnet school requirements.

Heretofore the wording was that the magnet schools were available to all children in Hamilton County. The new version reportedly says only the children in the HCDE system would have a priority, pushing the approximately 70 children from Signal Mountain who presently attend these magnet schools into a quagmire only some twisted school board goof finds amusing.

Can’t you hear it now? “Yessir, Your Honor. Magnet schools in Hamilton County are supported by taxpayer dollars and the good people on Signal Mountain pay higher county taxes than most other areas in our community. Oh, yes sir, Your Honor, our case rests.”

Any cattleman can tell you it is easier and far more effective to raise 25 cows than 250. Pure logic provides a Signal Mountain district can oversee four schools better than HCDE can 78. This is precisely why state education commissioner Candace McQueen is so intent on taking five HCDE schools with a separate superintendent and school board. (Didn’t see those ‘tea leaves’ coming, did you!)

Using the same brain wave, if Signal Mountain’s four and Candace’s “partnership five” are taken from HCDE, the county district has nine less to operate. Superintendent Bryan Johnson can turn his resources completely towards the others. Here’s the real kicker – with Signal Mountain off the ledger, HCDE will soon realize – voila! – the county district will have more money per student than it does presently.

Now, let’s face it – the one and only reason Signal Mountain will leave the HCDE is because our public schools are doing a rotten job in educating our young. This is why the county mayor, the Hamilton County Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and others have been on such a tear to improve public education. Big industry is absolutely shying away from Chattanooga because it is so easy to see our public schools have been allowed to fail.

When Signal Mountain gets control of its schools, its property values will immediately surge. We know the crème de la crème of schools in Hamilton County are on Signal Mountain.  But attendance numbers are dropping at all four mountain schools. Why? Parents are forced to make huge sacrifices to send their young to private schools so they will be able to read and do math at grade level.

These parents believe they have no choice and, what’s more, they are right. Look for yourself at what is actually happening today on Signal Mountain. Now envision what the faculties at Thrasher, Nolan and the Middle/High could accomplish in about half-a-semester minus the chains, shackles and – to hear some tell it – incompetent leadership.

Put another way, the Signal Mountain Education Fund – where private donations supplement HCDE dollars – is in trouble. At one time it was giving Signal Middle/High about a half-million a year to hire extra teachers, install great learning programs, and the like. In the last three years the fund is down 28 percent. At the same time, HCDE is providing less and less. The sad truth: yesterday’s top donors to the Education Fund are gone. They have moved with their children to the cash-thirsty private schools.

It doesn’t take Einstein to realize if the public schools are improved, those who hate being called on for money week-after-week-after-ever-loving week by the private school leeches will soon decide to come back and play on Signal Mountain’s state champion golf team instead.

So here’s the plan: After Monday night’s meeting with the Memphis swamis I’m thinking Mayor Howley and the council will host three or four meetings where the cops will arrest any person who raises their voice and acts like an idiot. I’m also thinking Dr. Friedl will patiently and kindly explain the whole picture in the same way he did to me.

The blessing is that Signal Mountain is an intelligent community, this in the way its people study, question, suggest and digest what the mountain’s feasibility committee will bring into light. The town council will then suggest a referendum – oh, they’ll vote appropriately but if they will listen, envision, and react – such a quorum will be unanimous.

The way this one ends? Everybody wins. Selah.

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