Roy Exum: Our Super’s First Hurdle

Monday, July 17, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

As new school superintendent Bryan Johnson settles in a new chair on his first day, the No. 1 task this week will be to suppress the state’s take-over of five public schools in Hamilton County. Oh, his to-do list is lengthy, especially with $230 million in deferred building maintenance and no money, but the biggest thing he needs is what all of us want – a chance.

Johnson did wonders at Clarksville (Tenn.) and is well-known to State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Yet he can hardly afford to start a scuffle in his first week of reviving a sagging system. The truth is that Johnson doesn’t actually know what he is getting into … just wait until he finds out there are more advisory groups that want inside his ear than there are hours in any of the long days ahead. Worse, he’ll soon be told they are each and all smarter than he is, making things hotter-than-usual before schools start Aug. 10.

Ironically, the best advice – this coming from a real dandy font of knowledge – may be to say nothing about the state threat other than a vague “We’ll see … “

Think about it. The Chattanooga City Council is expected to pass a resolution by Russell Gilbert asking the state for more time tomorrow, the Hamilton County Commission will likely pounce on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the School Board that just selected Johnson from a pretty heady group of candidates will meet in an “urgent” work session about the same horror one hour before its monthly meeting.

So help me, the only person in a county of 350,000 people that I can find who is for the take-over is state legislator Todd Gardenhire and that’s only because he told me. Before McQueen addressed the school board this spring Todd told me pretty emphatically, “We have had enough” and I was so startled by the “we” I figured he had a frog in his pocket.

But according to the commissioner, Bo Watson, also a state legislator, is going to help Gardenhire change the state law to make McQueen’s wacky ”partnership” legal but that is unsubstantiated, as is whether either legislator will run for re-election in 2018.

In April McQueen used the Times Free Press, this on a Sunday when she would be unable to be reached by other media outlets, to brazenly announce she was taking over five inner-city schools that are poor academic performers. She identified Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Woodmore Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Orchard Knob Elementary and intimated there could be others designated as iZone schools. Her announcement caught politicians and local leaders totally by surprise.

Appearing later in front of the school board, she upped her ire by almost immediately telling the group “No is not an option.” Instead, she laid out two scenarios. The first would be that the state’s Achievement School District would completely rule the schools, providing new principals, teachers and staff instead of the current employees who – to be completely candid – she would “terminate.”

Then she offered a partnership where the state would “join” HCDE in the operation of the schools. This way they would evaluate personnel, keeping most, but place them under a dictator of sorts who would in no way be accountable to anyone in Hamilton County. Not the mayor, the sheriff, Senator Corker – nobody – and most of all, not a soul from the Department of Education who allowed this to happen.

 Then she clarified the dictator would answer to an odd-numbered school board where the state (McQueen) would pick the majority and the elected school board in Hamilton County would pick the minority. This, of course, has caused many county residents to gnash their teeth over the demise of civics classes across the state. (Yes, those who did not gnash “gummed.”)

Last week she clarified the board would not be paid but would be chosen on “a passion” for the inner-city children. She also clarified the board would be made up of persons who live in Hamilton County but has not yet revealed how she, being from Nashville, will judge or gauge the “passion” of the majority she will personally pick for free headaches.

In short, the whole thing is as wacky as a PhD. could possibly make it. It is projected to cost several million dollars of the taxpayers’ money. If the state take-over is aborted – make sure you get this – all of the students at the five schools, with the same principals and teachers McQueen now says she will retain, will not cost Hamilton County taxpayers an additional dime. The first million that McQueen will send from Nashville to help with planning does not belong to her personally.

That’s right – the state take-over will cost millions from the state’s taxpayers but if we simply stop this absurdity it will cost not one penny more for Superintendent Bryan Johnson to show us what he can do with public education in Hamilton County. Not one penny more, and that’s including the five iZone schools that need his expertise the most.

The waste of millions in absolutely political dollars aside, there is not one document anywhere that demands the state take over any school. I am told there is an obligation, a responsibility, a moral effort and a lot of other words to become involved or help but to take over schools, demand one-sided partnerships, and do other dumb stuff is not spelled out in any written form anywhere.

That is why there is no penalty, rules, tariffs, or other punishment to bear if Hamilton County sends Todd Gardenhire on a trot to Nashville to tell the Capitol folks we ain’t doing this. Please. The reason there is no penalty is because there is no rule. Oh, it says you must intercede or something but I’m betting there is a far better way than having both the City Council and the County Commission agree this is far and away worse than a third grader who can’t read at grade level.

royexum@aol.com


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