Roy Exum: Three Easy Questions

Thursday, November 7, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

This is real, real simple … so incredibly easy a fourth grader can use it with as much success as an octogenarian with a billion in the bank. As a matter of fact, you can use these three simple questions as a guide to buying a pig, picking out a college, deciding on a church, or asking Lolita to go on a date. Trust me on this, for I swear it has never let me down. It has been almost a half-century since Lou Holtz, the bard of all football coaches, taught this to me once when I profiled him in Reader’s Digest. We spent a wonderful afternoon together and, while I couldn’t begin to tell you what we talked about, I have been carrying these truths with me like the Beatitudes.  

It is as simple and as straightforward and as pure as my True North. Before you get in any type of relationship with anyone whose path crosses yours, pray for wisdom and then apply any and every possible scenario with just these three questions:

* -- Can I trust you?

* -- Do you care about me?

* -- Where are we going – you and me – from here?

If all three of your answers glow green, you are on your way. But if one – any one of the three – turns any other shade or hue, you get away from not just the deal, but as far away from the person on the other side faster than you ever ran in your life. Oh, the rouser you face will promise anything; they’ll  say they’ll change – no, they won’t. You say this is too good to be true -- nothing in all of history’s millenniums has ever been ‘too good to be true.’ Worst of all, if you tell yourself or, equally, that one divine gift from God who is your life’s partner and who is so cherished you would wager your life’s stake, that ‘I’m the one who can make the difference’ … you are fixing to break two hearts instead of just your own. Please, you may be the best of all professional magicians, with a sleight-of-hand quicker than anyone in Europe, but the fact is this newest sham has been busted before and Father Time will forever trump smoke and mirrors.

Cast these truths in granite. This cheap litmus test will bode you well. The deeper you study the more absolute they become, and each is as Biblical as it can be.

Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Where are we going from here?

My case in point: In Sunday’s newspaper there appeared a story that proclaimed twice as many teachers have quit the Hamilton County public schools since August than at this point last year. This is bunk. I have written allegations that it is worse, far worse. The overwhelming majority of public school teachers in Chattanooga would do anything to get out. I have valid emails that indicate to me that our public schools in Hamilton County cannot be trusted. We all know “data” can be juggled to fit the question rather than the answer.

This was better known in yesteryear as much simpler: Back in the golden era we knew it as the truth. The truth is absolute. I personally feel that within the next 10 years public education, as we know it today, will change dramatically. If you doubt it, look where we were 10 years ago. Go back 20 years and you can chart the course of the Titanic. And no, I don’t have to prove it. What is taking place already happens every day.

Please, I am not a cop. I have no skin in the game, no dog in the hunt. I am not a crusader. But I know – in my heart of hearts -- that until some precious inner-city kids undergo some life-changing moments, until we change the archaic paralysis in education that has not been changed in the last 20 years and double that in an insane waste of millions, another generation will be lost. Erlanger Hospital is going to continue to give birth to wave after wave of poverty, crime, disease, hunger, and hopelessness of destitute generations to come. This is not your problem, nor is it mine. I have no business here. Thus, I can be candid and as honest as I can possibly be. Public education in Chattanooga is badly broken and as long as we continue along the same path, what on earth do you suspect is going to come off the assembly line?

* * *


Absolutely not. Answer me this, pilgrim: When School Supt. Bryan Johnson stealthily hired 181½ new employees over the summer, it was without precedent. I don’t know who knew about it before the ill-fated decision was born but it wasn’t those County Commissioners, and not the School Board members whose voices I trust. (And, yes, if you ain’t figured yet that every hen in the chicken coop is a not good layer, don’t be surprised a little later from now.) Johnson, his ego belying his naivete, played a cursed hunch that a ridiculous tax increase would pass but it never had a cut dog’s chance. Suddenly Johnson was caught. The guy is answerable to no one who I can find, but nobody can argue he wasn’t caught and – worse – he was suddenly without the $7 million it took to make the hires.

The tax increase was shot down scant days before children would report to school. Hello! The 181 were already hired and on the payroll. The fact is the “Super” took it upon himself to hire more people – get this -- than any other company in Chattanooga over the summer. Proof: the hires were firmly in place with school starting in less than two weeks – but I can find no one who authorized nor who approved 181 new positions at the Department of Education. Please, how does that work with a budget not yet approved? Why can’t one elected official answer that question, which is a sin unto itself according to the county charter, and darn near inexcusable if you pay county taxes.

The County Commission was mystified but then fell for some ludicrous shell game where the five percent raise meant for the teachers was reduced to 2 ½ percent by some vague committee – that included not one elected soul who I can find -- and then was completely diverted by a bonus from the rainy day fund with virtually no explanation nor plausible outcome. Again: ‘Can I trust you?’

Apparently, the ‘Super,’ perhaps believing he was invisible, then conjured up a ‘bonus’ from the school reserves, taking about $7 million in rainy day funds for the Band-Aid. Never mind that a year from now the new hires will reappear as about $7 million on the general payroll and – finally – the teachers’ raises, batted around like some badminton shuttlecock for at least the past five years by those of deplorable standards, should in moral, ethical, and humanitarian standards be fulfilled at a totally embarrassing cost of a red-faced $8 million-$10 million. I can see no way to recoup the rainy day millions. Yes, the schools got an unexpected boost of several million after the dust settled but it was spent elsewhere.

You must face it: This blunder will appear as an additional $15 million addition to next year’s budget. Please: And you dare ask, ‘Can I trust you?’ Seriously, if you were a teacher in the Hamilton County Department of Education right now, and you were brushing your teeth in the bathroom mirror as you readied for bed, I can guarantee you could not nod between the fluoride and tell me – straight of face -- you trust the Hamilton County Board of Education and/or those in the central office.

The point: The School Board has grossly cheated its teachers. You have watched it happen. You’ve witnessed phony supervisors run roughshod over those who teach our children. You’ve seen our teachers tasked for bus duty, lunch duty, after-school duty, hall duty, and other tasks assigned to a prison warden. You’ve seen our female teachers break up fights during lunch as a common occurrence. You’ve heard students yell ‘F**k you!’ to somebody’s 24-year-old teacher at Brainerd High. You’ve heard of the 6 p.m. email to the faculty that another child was shot after school got out last month. Students at two different county schools brought firearms to school two weeks ago. Yet the ‘central office’ says, “nothing unusual.” Right.

And you dare to wonder why any certified teacher in Hamilton County can look Supt. Bryan Johnson is the eye and ask: ‘Can I trust you?’ fully knowing any answer he may give is a lie.

* * *


Absolutely not. The teachers’ raises are vivid proof our county teachers are pawns. In two years under Supt. Bryan Johnson there have been no notable benefits that our teachers can touch. I base my beliefs on what the teachers reveal to me in their emails. The “white privilege” farce at the start of the school year was sloughed off as a “misunderstanding” but the white teachers within the system – a majority -- still resent the fact such racism was foisted over such a non-issue that it became an issue and the HCDE never apologized.

What is worse is that such idiocy created a disastrous ripple effect that accelerated the number of white families (with school-aged students) to abandon the public schools at a rate of 30 percent and growing. Said one longtime school administrator, “Five years from now, with the voucher program, the teachers leaving, and the unchecked discipline, you will not recognize what our public schools are going to become. The public, and by this I mean the parents of those who want the best for their children, are not going to stand for this any longer.”

It is commonly known by every school faculty that school administrators will side with the system’s miscreants time and time again. The Student Disciplinary Handbook is a horribly disjointed fiasco that lends great credence to the belief that a group of liberal elitists is ruining the county’s public schools where teacher support is insignificant, where horribly overworked administrators have fallen prey to meddlesome sociological experiments, and where those who are abysmal as classroom teachers by their peers are now placed under the directorship of certified kooks. If the FBI were to carefully screen every recent hire in the HCDE, some faculty members, I am told, would be put in jail. There is one teacher in particular who other teachers allege is such a pedophile he would be in prison if only the central office had the gumption to address the lurid details in his personnel file. It’s not beyond the realm to believe some of the claims could not be qualified by law enforcement as an accessory to a crime.

So, “Do you care about me?" Not in a million years.

* * *


My greatest fear for public education in Chattanooga, as well as Memphis and Nashville, is that we will become the land of the have’s and have not’s. In Mississippi some years ago the nitwits who badly misjudged character by the color of skin tore public education apart. Racism gave birth to “academies.” The white kids go to academies, the black kids go to high schools. At first it was racial, a trait that has finally begun to fade since the Civil War. As scum died off, high schools boys realized blacks playing with whites was a heckuva lot of fun. But then the water really got muddied, and this is what you’ll soon find as an even-worse curse. The black kids can’t read. They are born to poverty, to hunger, to neighborhood shootings, and all else that causes … what? a fourth-grader to just commit suicide.

You want the real reason our Orchard Knob son took his life? Bullying is the stock answer but the real reason? He was smart, too smart. He excelled at everything. He was a “Do-it-all Johnny if ever there was one. Everything and anything, he could do it. Everybody bragged about him. He was exceptional. He was the teachers’ favorite. So the reason he was unmercifully tormented was because he was “too good.” The other kids hated that. They made his life hell. Now he is dead. That is the new curse. This is what Chattanoogans are up against and, because of jealous ignorance, we just lost our next superstar. This is reverse hatred. It is not going away.

What this means is all the Hamilton County parents who can – blacks and whites -- will flee the public schools because their children are being “held back” by the children who can’t keep up. The trouble-makers, the loud mouths. The teachers know this. Add the fact the buildings are falling down, the lack of discipline is rampant, and teacher morale is at such a low point you’ll see a scary number of teachers who will quit at the Christmas break. You? You mighty right you’d get out.

The HCDE just gave “five star” potential banners to many schools in the district but, according to the state-wide ACT scores just posted, Hamilton County Schools placed a lousy eighth among the top 10 largest districts in the state. Forget potential, banners with 5’s, or “full of promise,” results are all that matter. We’re eighth out of 10. Seven districts averaged scores of over 20 on the 2019 ACT test but Hamilton County averaged 19.6, Nashville 18.5 and Memphis 17.5. Hamilton County fell 0.3 percent overall from 2018 and the number of students who scored 21 or better in Hamilton County fell 2.9 percent from 2018. (Knoxville averaged 21.1 overall and had 50 percent of those who were tested make a 21 or better.) Yet we give the “Super” a bonus? That’s nuts and what’s more, every parent of 43,000 children knows it's true.

It can be argued Hamilton County’s schools aren’t getting the job done. We want to meet on equity, diversity, and any similar jangle that takes away from the bulls-eye.The teaching situation is so dire the HCDE can’t hire enough substitute teachers – they are having to outsource to some out-of-town company called Education Solution Services – but the real reason is because yesterday’s substitute teachers no longer have the stomach to tolerate classroom madness. Who wants to get into a fight where there is no way to win?

Millions go into the Public Education Foundation. What’s that? What’s it done? We are eighth out of the top 10 largest school districts in the state. We have let some flaming liberals under a despicable guise of a not-for-profit sham called UnifiEd infiltrate our youth and not one person with any gumption has called their hand, much less ridden these phonies out of town on a rail. The HCDE is into the Kool-Aid up to its ears and the liberals, poisoning our greatest philanthropies, are spending charity cash knowing Chattanooga’s true leadership could give as much as a mouse’s ear.

* * *

So tell me … are you surprised twice as many teachers have quit this year than last? Have you no idea that the overwhelming majority of public school teachers pray they can somehow find an out? They want to leave but the bare truth is they have no option but to withstand the central office bullying, the unconscionable workload, the lack of raises, the thankless extra hours, the $5 they’ll slip to some child so he (and his sister) can eat over the weekend, and – this is a biggie – the mental strain and anguish you wouldn’t wish on your worst wart.

Anybody who is so naïve to believe our teachers are quitting because Bradley County, the Georgia schools, or some other county pays more hasn’t the foresight to know fuel costs, the extra travel time, and the intangibles eat up any money gain.

Public education in Chattanooga is in the tank. Everybody in town knows it but, tragically, we ain’t got a soul who will do one thing about it. That is the real reasons why teachers quit.

Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Where are we going from here? If you are a teacher in Hamilton County, there ain’t a green light in the bunch.

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