Roy Exum: Schools Get Reprieve

Thursday, June 15, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Moments after Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said until somebody has “the courage to stand up” against a disappointing 1.7 increase for education over last year’s budget, Commissioner Joe Graham told his fellow commissioners he was the guy. Next week Graham is expected to delay the acceptance of the just proposed FY 2018 budget. With that, the most beleaguered school district in Tennessee’s thirstiest city for public education got one more reprieve to shed a 12-year coat of “status quo.”

Granted, it will still take a magician to pull it off but by delaying the budget for perhaps a month, it appears that at least four of the nine county commissioners are willing to discuss an alternative plan that could accelerate what it will take for a renaissance in Hamilton County. “I don’t know whether I am for this or not … but I sure do think our constituents want us to have a conversation,” one commissioner said.

In the past 18 months it has been learned the Hamilton County schools comprise the worst metro district in Tennessee and the new budget proposed in no more than a Band-Aid on “the same old thing.” Parents and teachers are clamoring for a change. With a new schools superintendent who will find ample proof our school system has been allowed to rot, it has been learned there may be a way to strategically move the floundering system forward. 

Following new property assessments in the county, a new millage rate will be certified by the in late July or August and should the commissioners opt to retain the current rate of 2.76, approximately $25 million would be realized that could, in turn, create a bond ten times that size. Combined with the county’s AAA bond rating, the new funding could give Mayor Coppinger the ability to address a long list of aching needs in a county where the average school is over 40 years old and not one new school is on any architect’s table.

The new superintendent is expected to be chosen by the Hamilton County School Board at a meeting of the Board of Education late Thursday afternoon. The board will discuss the five applicants that were just interviewed last week in a work session at 5 o’clock and then actually vote during the quarterly meeting that will begin at 5:30 p.m.

In the early-week jockeying, it has been learned Bryan Johnson, the chief academic officer for the Clarksville (Tenn.) school system, may have emerged as the favorite. When the five final-finalists were chosen from the nine finalists, Johnson was the lone candidate to appear on every member’s ballot. Kurt Kelly, who has done well as Interim Superintendent since last March, will be a factor and so will Wayne Johnson, a successful business executive who would bring a different dimension many citizens want.

Believe it or not, there is suddenly a greater urgency developing for the school board. When the new superintendent is introduced to the County Council next Wednesday, he and the school board will be asked to present a three-to-five year progress plan before the county commissioners will take a huge, unprecedented step in a multi-million dollar funding of education.

A commissioner said, “Right now there is no plan … the school board has been flying by the seat of their pants. We need the school board to sit down with county officials to talk about $240 million in deferred maintenance to our existing schools, what are the needs for new schools, and how we can best use our facilities.

“Lookout Valley High just had a graduating class of 40 students. We must do far better in utilizing our resources,” added one commissioner who is eager to shake the horrid status quo tag – it has been 12 years since there was a tax increase for education.”

Another commissioner, speaking off the record in this, an election year, was equally concerned. “Don’t you think all of us know, down deep, that while we are standing still the world is passing us by?

“If we employ the millage tactic, which a lot of municipalities do, we could take immediate steps to embrace the new leadership with funding the school board can offer. If we do not, we won’t have this chance again since the rate is set for the next four years.”

Last week Mayor Coppinger contacted the school board about working jointly to address many key issues but, clearly, they groups can talk for the next 18 months but all they can do is smile at each other; there is no money in the budget.

“Our office is poised and ready to address any task the County Commission asks but until we get additional funding,” Coppinger told the group, “I’m afraid we can do very little.”

Or, more kindly put, embrace status quo for the 13th year with a tax increase.

royexum@aol.com



Roy Exum: New Schools On Agenda

Hamilton County School Superintendent Bryan Johnson confirmed on Wednesday that a plan for several new public schools will be included on Thursday night’s School Board agenda. Hamilton County has fallen woefully behind other metro school districts in the state and, with an estimated $340 million in deferred repairs, upgrading facilities - that now average over 40 years old - was ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Mom Don’t Have…I Do’

It’s hard to know what goes through the mind of a five-year-old, particularly one who watches her mom go in and out of jail due to drug addiction. But little Sunshine Oelfke is obviously being raised right by her grandmother because the other morning, the five-year-old came into the kitchen before leaving for kindergarten with a baggie full of coins from her piggy bank. “I asked ... (click for more)

$125 Million County School Building Plan Includes Shifting CSLA To Tyner Middle; Combining Tyner High/Middle; New Harrison Elementary, New East Hamilton Middle

Hamilton County School officials on Thursday unveiled a $125 million building plan that includes moving the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts to the current Tyner Middle School, which will undergo a major renovation. Tyner Middle will move across the street into Tyner High School. Both Tyner buildings have been under-utilized for a number of years. There will also be ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Committee Says Pulling Away From County Schools Is "Feasible"

After eight months of investigating the viability of Signal Mountain establishing a separate school district, a committee of six has determined that it is feasible and would meet the goal of improving the education provided to students. The committee was also tasked with identifying obstacles and if possible to find ways to overcome them.  Results of the report were presented ... (click for more)

Baylor Wins State Volleyball Title

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – There were tears on both sides of the court at MTSU’s Murphy Center Thursday afternoon. There were tears of relief and joy for the Baylor Lady Red Raiders while the tears for the Briarcrest Lady Saints represented heartbreak and disappointment. Such is the case when two really good volleyball teams meet for the second straight year for a D-II Class AA ... (click for more)

Lanters Are Latest Sister Acts Leading Lady Flames Teams

When one looks back on the success of the Lee University women’s soccer program over the past 16 years, it is easy to see what sisters have provided. Records show the surge began in 2001 and continues today with senior Summer and freshman Anna Lanter (former Soddy Daisy High School standouts) helping spark the Lady Flames to a current 8-4 overall mark and 7-2 in the rugged Gulf ... (click for more)