Roy Exum: Eliminate School Fees Now

Thursday, June 13, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There are some people who want the Hamilton County Commission to raise taxes when they meet next week. There are others, including some commissioners, who are against a tax increase as it is being presented. But I can’t find a person who I suspect may be on one list or the other who doesn’t believe the biggest abuse in our schools is the ridiculous fees we force on each and every child in the public school system.

A fee to take English? A fee to go out for the football team? It is a clear violation of double taxation, yet the public schools think they are slick as they cluck and crow: “It’s voluntary … if a child cannot pay it they are excused from having to pay. It’s not that big a problem.” Bunk! It is the worst thing you can do to a fourth grader who has to tell her teacher “my family doesn’t have the money.”

Parents are hounded for “fees” all the time. Take band, for example. On top of an annual “school fee,” there is the uniform “fee,” the bus “fee” to away games (that has to be paid up front in a ‘season package'), the instrument “fee,” the trip “fee” to Disney World for the region competition, and the cost of appearing in what is proclaimed as “an honor band” in the Liberty Bowl parade.

 The band parents are also tasked with selling 48 dozen already-stale donuts, forced to be on a “team” that supplies cold drinks and Gatorade (out of their pockets) after summer practices and agree when they up the “meals” fee once a week, for when the bus stops in Valdosta or Antioch for “Big Macs.” Understand, darling Charlotte will never play a tuba again in her life, but no one can deny she will be far more enriched by the entire experience. Her dad will even take on another job every weekend to pay for the “fees”, which of course means he’ll never get to see her march.

The whole thing is ludicrous. Taxpayers should be enraged that after they pay taxes, the weekly fee grab by the public schools is incessant, totally wrong, and holds just as many poor kids out of extracurricular activities as those unable to read in the third grade.

I’ll agree our teachers need a raise, and I’m not so near-sighted I don’t believe our support and administrative folks do as well, but for those who have over-used the line, “It is for the children … oh, our poor children,” there is not any other one thing that could do more for our children than outlaw any and all fees. Why? It negatively affects every single child in every single school and that is flat-out wrong.

When the county commissioners were students, there wasn’t anywhere near what this catastrophe has become. But because the school district and our elected school board have found “fees” to be such a ready cash cow, school board member Rhonda Thurman has been preaching on this travesty by herself for at least five years. One or two others on the board speak a good game but when there comes an opening at budget time, for some perplexing reason they’d rather run in Bonny Oaks traffic trying to get hit.

A warm friend of mine writes last week: “This makes you really think, posted by the mother of a single mom with two children who lives here in Hamilton County, "I just added up the supply list for 6th grade. The grand total is $356 and that does NOT include the $65 school fee. Oh my goodness!

“How many people do you know can afford this especially with several children in the home,” the note read. “What are our taxes paying for? This doesn't include supplies the teachers pay for out of their own pockets. Never to be repaid! To me this is pretty sad!”

I totally agree! If the Hamilton County Commission wants to really “help the children,” then totally eliminate and outlaw fees of any kind. I know for a fact that there are some wonderful young athletes in our public schools who can’t play sports because their parents are unable to pay. Any child should not be affected by such happenstance.

But before the County Commission approves a FY2020 budget, its greatest promise would be that all fees for every child have been abolished.

* * *

I have been watching the Signal Mountain budget process and wondered how on earth the same place that studied leaving the Hamilton County School District can swallow both the hefty county and Signal tax increases at the same time. On Lookout Mountain, a five percent tax increase was passed without so much as a peep. It might be our county and all of the municipalities it contains should devise a plan where, say, every two years an incremental tax increase would be automatic.

* * *

After watching the Planning Commission and the Wastewater Treatment Authority perform so badly as of late, it is painfully clear both demand oversight. County Mayor Jim Coppinger says all he does is make the appointments but somebody has to be feeding him some names. There are too many lulus with “conflicting interests” on each board that either could shame an Arkansas family reunion.

* * *

At one time the school board was appointed before its current popular-vote method and, according to various sources, was much better at getting things done. Today the school board has no authority other than to hire the superintendent and, in the words of one county commissioner, “You can see the way that is turning out.” I believe it is time to return to an appointed school board – and, yes, there are a few who should be re-appointed – and ask the general electorate to decide on a school superintendent every four years, with no term limits. How else can we stop the schools’ shameful cash grab, operate the schools as if it was a half-billion business, and restore the trickling trust.

* * *

Do you have the vision of what a metro government, or “home rule” operation like in Knoxville, could do for the Chattanooga area? Across the country many city-county partnerships have embraced a better form of government.

royexum@aol.com


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