Roy Exum: Have At It, Sisters!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Yes, it didn’t take long … not long at all … for a majority (remember this word) of the Hamilton County Commission to request a meeting with those teachers who still dare to bear the faces after sending a live warhead of stupid over the bow to their funding body. On Sunday there appeared a letter that chastised, by name, five county commissioners who neither deserved it nor toil on behalf of 330,000 people with the belief our failed public education department is the sun, the moon and the stars all between. These teachers wrote one paragraph that says it all: “Actions speak so much louder than words, and these commissioners have repeatedly shown that they do not stand for teachers. From now on, we will stand for ourselves and work to hold them accountable to the residents of Hamilton County.”

If these poorly misguided teachers stay true to their word – the letter carried 70 signatures – their effort will be every bit as ridiculous as their toothless bite. As one who knows something about fighting, the first rule is that there are no rules. Anything and everything goes, and, while Commissioner Sabrena Smedley requested a nose-to-nose meeting before it was even lunchtime yesterday, we can expect her to be a lady. It’s the other four commissioners who are in the teachers’ target who have little time for yapping miniature terriers because Chairman Randy Fairbanks, Chester Bankston, Tim Boyd, and Greg Martin look at such nonsense with the yawning disregard of a Yellowstone Park wolf.

Among the top rules in a fight, be it back-alley or board room, are these simple axioms:

1) NEVER GET IN A FIGHT YOU CAN’T WIN – A third-grader, versed solely in facts, could reduce every person who signed Sunday’s letter into a wilting violet, which is not to make fun of flowers; I like them. Never, ever, fight without knowing you can win. If you must, wait until you have built a cast-iron platform of strength, but the teachers’ house is made of straw. Br’er wolf ain’t gotta’ huff and puff but once. The teachers’ stance is totally based on non-truths. The teachers want to blame the County Commission with the lack of a salary increase, when the raw truth is that same County Commission these sisters hope to slander has increased the Department of Education’s budget by record amounts in each of the past five years. The teachers are blaming the commissioners for not giving them more than the well-publicized, carefully-explained, FY2020 budget that was graciously allotted to the county’s Board of Education.

2) FIGHT FOR YOURSELF – The worst mistake any fighter can make is to take some licks he neither wants nor deserves because if your heart ain’t in it, neither are you. Forget your girlfriend’s virtue, being “true to your team,” or ‘rassling’ for any reason that is “iffy.” It’s clear to me that something shady must be underfoot to entice the teachers to stoop to such silliness, thus the commission’s strategy is to bare it. In Nashville the teachers have the “let’s strike” tom-toms thumping and in Chicago the teachers are picketing. But in Chatttanooga it is strongly believed fewer than half of the teachers belong to a union and, after the aides-over-salary snafu during the budget talks, any teachers’ collective efforts this day and time has no luster at all. The same is true in a fight; half an army never wins the big battles.

3. NEVER GET IN A FIGHT WITH A PIG; YOU BOTH GET DIRTY AND THE PIG LIKES IT – We know who the pig is – that’s Supt. Bryan Johnson. He’s the guy who lifted a five percent teachers’ raise out of the budget because with very little fanfare, he and his associates were quietly hiring 181 new employees over the summer. Whoever assured him that a 34-cent tax increase would float was crazy. But it is believed his ego knew nothing about the taxpayers who were rigidly opposed to it. Every one of the nine County Commissioners knew it wasn’t going to happen.

4. ALWAYS PICK YOUR OPPONENT – Never allow the guy in the opposite corner to pick you, else he owns you from the start. The teachers blame the commissioners for voting down the tax increase but – face it – the taxpayers had shouted it down convincingly before the vote was ever tallied. The reason is, and let’s place the real blame where it really belongs. Public education in Hamilton County is lousy. You can dance around it all you want. Trust me, I hear it every day. I also see it every day. Turn on tonight’s news. Read the newspaper about guns being collected at the school’s front doors. Look at the monumental waste being spent with scant return-on-investment in our poverty schools – and the liberal elite hates this truth – when it is at the expense of our other children who are short-changed throughout the system.

5. “KNOW YOUR OPPONENT” -- How many black-on-black shootings have we had this year? How many have been in ‘priority schools’ neighborhoods? Nobody wants to talk about that, but the taxpayers don’t like it one bit. Look at the social promotions of kids who can’t add or subtract. At Howard you can get a semester’s credit in less than an hour. It is blatant cheating and the ‘people of Hamilton County aren’t going to finance such squander anymore. The 5’s banner - every teacher in each school honored knows first and foremost it's a phony subterfuge. We have a 5’s banner in every school to show potential. In the NFL ‘potential’ is “a French word that means ‘Can’t Play Yet.’”

Believe me, whether it is three-or-four or all 70 who signed that letter will get eaten alive … unless …


TEACHER: As you know, the letter was ill-advised, improperly explained, and poorly represented. You know that afterward we have been made aware we were unfortunately miscast. But here’s the truth: My children are on ‘free lunches’ because I can no longer pay for them. My second son needs braces on his teeth. I know that when he sits with me in church because prayer is all I have left. I personally have not had a raise in X!X years. My family has no life. I go without lunch on Fridays because I sneak $5 to a child and make him hide it in his shoe because somebody who stays where he lives will steal it. That’s what feeds him and his sister. We are at wit’s end and the school board has no money. Can’t give you two 5s for a $10. Tell us what to do, where to go, how we can get away from what Mrs. Smedley calls being pawns when the Superintendent shuffles our raises because he bet the wrong side of a tax increase.

COMMISSIONER: I too am sorry that the budget money we gave the schools was misappropriated. We truly believed there was a five percent in there and I must honestly tell you we had no idea that 181 new personnel were being hired. We did not know that some vague “committee” first cut your raises to 2½ percent. I am also more than a little miffed to find there were several opportunities when additional funding was made to the HCDE that, in fact, would have covered a raise for the teachers had not the School Board allowed those monies to be allocated elsewhere. Commissioner Boyd has followed the money trail within the HCDE and can provide you with what most of us concur is poor judgement but we cannot address that in a fiscal way until the FY 2021 budget is presented and approved.

TEACHER: Are you telling me that Dr. Johnson is why my next take-home pay is the result of the School Board or because they lack the courage to point out the obvious oversight of what we believed was the County Commission’s top priority – its teachers?

COMMISSIONER: No ma’am. But if I may be so bold, I believe that might be a very good topic for each teacher to address in a meeting with your school board representative. This would be out of the Commission’s realm. There are huge needs in our county that cannot be met by any organization that has had no influx of income for a whole lot longer than teachers have not gotten raises! Oh…no ma’am, forgive me if my failed attempt at humor was improper, but we haven’t had a tax increase to mention in about 15 years. Please, we feel your pain … not one County Commissioner who still receives a paycheck other than our county stipend could exist the way that you do, and all five of us acknowledge that.

TEACHER No. 2: Our schools, especially those in blighted areas, if I may call it that, are almost war zones. We get very little administrative support, we are constantly tasked to perform lunch duty, bus duty, mounds of perfectly senseless paperwork dictated by a central office that believes to be tyrannical is acceptable. It is unbearable yet the County Commission funds it with no more oversight nor accountability than the United States does Iraq? Don’t you think it's about time for you to ‘quit passing the buck’ and not believe your own hands are dirty?

COMISSIONER No. 2: May I be very blunt? It worries me greatly. I talk to many people and there are quite a number who feel our insufficiencies in managing public education are costing this county millions of dollars every year. There is one social media writer – I will not call his name – who feels the school board is totally ineffective, who has lost much confidence in our current Superintendent and more particularly in some of his staff. One of his chief claims is the way we – all of us – mistreat our teachers and while I don’t agree with a lot he says, he is right about some things. I will not identify him by name, since he knows I think he is as goofy as the day is long, but some things he writes I will not repeat as a politician yet feel he is very correct in his views. Please don’t let him hear I said that … his ego is worse than Dr. Johnson’s … but some of what he says a lot of voters in my district beat me over the head with it.

TEACHER No. 3: Please, we are playing ping-pong here … one of the girls I graduated with at UTC is a teacher at a certain elementary school that has a psycho as a principal. She has run off over 30 teachers in an incredibly short time – it is beyond belief – but because her husband is some important guy she’s “Miss Untouchable.” Obviously we can’t call the police, the Superintendent, anyone at the central office … a couple of our teachers wrote emails to the social media guy because – give him credit – he takes up for teachers if he finds out they are right, but a friend of mine who is a real old chick knew him back in the day and knows his (cell) number. He told her he has emails three inches deep from teachers but he’s Enemy No. 1 in the ‘good ole boy’ network. They find out you talk to him and you’ll never work in Hamilton County again. Our principal told me that. Can you imagine living like this? And it’s every day!

COMMISSIONER No. 1: How about this … I am going to give each of you a piece of paper. I want to ask five questions. You number them, and then beside each number, as I read the question, you rank your answer, with ‘5’ being the higher and ‘zero’ being the lowest. Okay?

TEACHER No. 2: I can’t do that … it would jeopardize the careers of 70 teachers who signed the letter. I am not going to risk that.

COMMISSIONER No. 2 – Is it that bad?

TEACHER: Excuse me … when do you think it was the last time the teachers got a raise? And after what we’ve talked about you still want to ask me how bad it is? Commissioner, If I’ll work weekends, I think I can get paid more at Publix.

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