Roy Exum: No! To A Wheel Tax

Friday, October 11, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There is no way, not this spring or 10 years from now, that Hamilton County will ever pass a “wheel tax” to give our public school teachers a raise. So let me first say for our County Commissioners to “pass the buck” on such a proposal to the taxpayers is cowardly. The taxpayers have had quite enough of the schools’ whining and greed. On Wednesday it was announced the county leaders were leaning towards “just putting a wheel tax on the ballot … so the voters can have a hand in the decision,” and if you believe that the voters want to endure the onslaught of how a doomed campaign will play out in the next six months, you might enjoy watching reruns of “Lassie” for all the good it will do you.

For the past year the subject of teacher raises has been a lightning rod.

It’s a popular and proper item on the budget every year. But Supt. Bryan Johnson had already hired most of the 181 new school personnel he figured would be included in a 34-cent tax increase. Because a collection of goofies – not the School Board – knocked the highly-touted 10 percent raise down to a five percent raise, then down to a 2½ cent raise, there was little money in the FY2020 budget to increase the teacher pay. There was also a last-minute provision to hire those 181 new people in the-now questionable HCDE sand castle.

As predicted, a tax “for the children” went down in flames. Johnson was stuck with 181 hires so he deftly dealt from the bottom of the deck. He used the new budget to instead finance his new 181 army of helpers and then raided the school’s “rainy day” account for about $14 million so teachers and other personnel would be given a $1,500 bonus in lieu of a raise. The bonus package has now swollen to over $2,000, when the far wiser move would have been to replenish as much of the “rainy day fund” as he could.

As brazen as the teacher pay wheel tax idea is – coming less than two months after the County Commission refused to act on that $34 million tax increase – Johnson was proven to be a poor steward of the taxpayer dollars. He filched the $14 million from the rainy day account because he was caught and unable to fund his 181-person hire. Worse, with the tax increase a folly from the beginning, in his angst he made County Mayor Jim Coppinger look so bad that some publicly wondered if Coppinger – who has done a good job – might step down.

Johnson has the biggest school budget in Chattanooga’s history and the least to show for it. School vouchers, which will be a boon to the Hamilton County parents and guardians who can no longer abide the county school’s lack of promise, may eventually be used to help pay for other alternatives of education rather than be swiped by the HCDE. What is believed to be a full one-third of the county’s school-aged children go to private schools or are home-schooled. As the HCDE teachers realized there is a huge difference in a raise versus a bonus, there is a growing faction who finds so much upheaval in public education this guy could possibly be fired for cause. 

His “white privilege” agenda at the beginning of the school year, a 40-page disciplinary “text book” has blown sky high, and teachers are quitting due to abhorrent work loads, virtually no support from supervisors, and the worst discipline model every forced on a metro school district. Encouraging high school seniors to get cheap class credits is unthinkable, but condoned in the system. Employers bemoan the still-valid charges at least 30 percent of HCDE students cannot read and that Chattanooga State finds almost 70 percent of HCDE graduates must take remedial classes. 

After the “white privilege” episode, Johnson donated a performance bonus into a scholarship in honor of his mother but, inside of a month, he had a hip-pocket School Board member float the idea of a new, more lucrative contract for himself. He seized on a silly test that show a child’s potential and it has since been proven the test is bogus, once compared to measurable achievement testing.

Now he wants to study a wheel tax that he claims would pay teachers a 7.5 pay raise but some, myself included, no longer have confidence in the Superintendent or his management staff. Consider this: In the next Schools budget there will be a need to solidify an ample raise for our teachers. We will also have to absorb the salaries of the 181 new personnel and now he wants a wheel tax that is a renewable cost to the taxpayer every year. Most families have a least two cars and, as I understand it, the wheel tax is levied on anything that rolls.

It was proposed at Wednesday’s County Commission by Commissioner David Sharpe, whose brother Robert Sharpe is a top-tier HCDE executive, and who has been a one-man school lobbyist on the County Commission. After the Wednesday meeting David seemed to have misspoken. He told a reporter that in no way was he attempting ‘pass’ a tax.' He maintained,  “I’m just trying to get a wheel tax on the ballot, as many of my colleagues have suggested was an appropriate measure moving forward after the budget debate. That’s all I’m doing. I’m revisiting the conversation my colleagues brought up previously.”  Puh-lease!

At a meeting last week of prominent conservative voices, Sharpe and Katherlyn Geter were identified as two “plants” who were posted on the County Commission by the pseudo education non-profit, UnifiEd. Both commissioners were supported by the liberal group of community organizers. A new Conservative group, HamiltonPAC, has emerged to challenge UnifiEd. Seven members of the School Board are believed to be aligned with UnifiEd, and a number of HCDE officials are said to be as well.

The County Commission will vote next Wednesday on whether to allow the wheel tax a place on the ballot. Hopefully, it will be solidly voted down and an unwanted nuisance squelched.

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