County School Board attorney Scott Bennett told members of the board on Thursday night that a group studying the possibility of a separate school district on Signal Mountain cannot expect to have use of the current schools in the community.
Attorney Bennett said the schools on Signal Mountain "belong to the Hamilton County Department of Education."
Meanwhile, a group has been formed that is opposed to leaving the county schools.
Renee Shoop said, "There is a growing movement on Signal Mountain among the town of Signal Mountain and Walden, and unincorporated Hamilton County residents, to not form an independent school district."
The group has its own website at http://www.staywithhcde.org/
It says, "We are residents of the Town of Signal Mountain, Walden, and unincorporated Hamilton County on Signal Mountain. But we are not just folks who live on Signal Mountain. We are proud to be part of a larger community, and we oppose splitting off from our Hamilton County school system.
We believe it is vital to work within the HCDE system already provided by our county tax dollars, rather than separating ourselves from our neighbors and friends. Our community is bigger than our mountain.
"The proposal for a Signal Mountain School District impacts families within Hamilton County, not just those living on Signal. Splitting from Hamilton County creates an appearance of elitism and is causing division and contention within the community. This proposal wastes time, effort, and money that could be better spent working within our current county system to continue making improvements to our award-winning schools. Let's use the system we are already paying for, instead of creating more cost to families and neighbors."
Kathy Lennon, board member who is from Signal Mountain, said the study group thus far has not included school buildings in its budget. She said the group needed a response from the county schools regarding the school facilities, including Signal Mountain Middle and High School, Nolan Elementary and Thrasher Elementary.
He said a law allowing municipalities to set up their own school districts does not say they could take title to existing schools.
The attorney also cited a 2005 agreement between the county schools, the county, Signal Mountain and Walden over funding of Signal Mountain Middle/High. He said the agreement called for the county to help fund the construction of the school and for the county schools to own the facilities. He said for that agreement to be overturned that all four entities would have to agree.
Attorney Bennett said since bonds to build the middle/high school are still outstanding that would also place limitations on any transfer.
He said should Signal Mountain go ahead with the separate school district that the county schools would still have an obligation to provide an education for students who may not opt to go to the special district school.
Attorney Bennett said when Germantown in Shelby County set up its own school system that it did not get control of Germantown high school, middle school and elementary. He said Germantown has offered $25 million for those schools, but no deal has been reached.
Board Chairman Steve Highlander said he hopes that Signal Mountain will opt to stay in the county school system.