In the Navy SEALS, there are two ways you should ever do a task: “The right way” and “Again.” We as a society admit failure when we take the much-besmirched path of “the lesser of two evils” because the destination will always be “wrong.” It’s true: ‘start wrong-end wrong’ happens every time. Evil, no matter to what degree, is always wrong and when the Hamilton County School Board accepted “the lesser of two evils” on Thursday night, seven-of-nine members took the wrong path.
Candice McQueen, who, as the state’s Commissioner of Education, is anything but. She has presented the Chattanooga school district with two options to fix its continuously-failing inner city schools and both are wrong. Every member of the school board knows it. One choice is to turn five schools over to the state-operated Achievement School District (ASD) that is so noted for failure the state legislature will soon have no option but to unplug its “life support.”
The other option is to force Hamilton County’s Department of Education into a dreadfully-unbalanced “partnership” that will cost the state’s taxpayers millions of dollars in a frivolous cause. For Hamilton County to enter into such a ruse is unthinkable, as every school board member will readily admit, but the ASD has been a colossal mistake and a growing number of state lawmakers now realize it.
McQueen refuses to take “no” for an answer to her vexing demands and, until Chattanooga political and community leaders can convince the governor to rid us of this misguided tyranny, McQueen seems bent on destroying public education in Hamilton County. She has torn apart Memphis in the past five years with virtually no results and it is abundantly clear she is neither wanted nor welcomed here.
Not one of the School Board members wants the “partnership” plan but seven – under pressure – agree to “talk about it,” as though it hasn’t been discussed at length since the spring. Board members Joe Smith and David Testerman had the courage to vote their beliefs on Thursday with resounding “no” votes but the other seven voted to open contract talks despite what appeared to be deep reservations by each person.
The proposal to begin contract negotiations was not on Thursday’s agenda but McQueen’s representative “demanded” a vote and the timid immediately scrambled around and obliged, creating a three-hour clutter. Every member of the School Board voiced adamant disapproval of “the lesser of two evils,” mind you, so the seven votes in favor of beginning talks are believed “to buy more time.” (Gumption is hardly a school-board staple.)
Among the first things new Supt. Bryan Johnson has done is to create an “innovation zone” that includes 10 at-risk schools – not just five the state as earmarked – that need urgent attention. This would cost little money, since the FY2018 budget has been approved, but McQueen wants to bring $3.4 million in taxpayer money, create a separate school board, and have a separate superintendent answer only to her.
McQueen has indicated the remainder of this school year will be spent “planning” the partnership before she takes complete and total control of what could be 4,000 of Chattanooga’s children next fall. When she does, it is believed a new governor will have a new education commissioner. While McQueen will be gone, the partnership will still have 4½ years left on a proposed 5-year contract. Fearing obvious uncertainty and tremendous costs, no business owner alive on earth would accept such a venture. To force it on Hamilton County – where no official will have any say in its operation – is totally absurd but we have seven of nine school board members to want to discuss it.
The partnership school board will have seven persons with three being selected by the county and four being assigned by the state. This way the county members can be out-voted by the state members each and every time, giving McQueen an iron fist of a grip.
With McQueen bringing $3.4 million in taxpayer money, County Major Jim Coppinger has no idea what the county will be forced to pay in the partnership. He has no idea where he will get the money. But we do know the tax money to educate the children – roughly $10,000 per child in state and county tax money – will go to the partnership instead of the Hamilton County Department of Education.
The county will still be responsible in maintaining and furnishing the partnership schools – including utilities, janitorial, meals and support staff – and the partnership will pay no rent nor transportation (school bus) costs.
The proposed partnership is, without question, the most foolish concept in Governor Haslam’s tenure as the state’s chief executive. “In a perfect world we would give the new ‘Innovation Zone’ a chance but the world’s not perfect,” Supt. Johnson said.
Nor will it ever be if we are wrong from the very start.