Smedley, Bankston Say They Are No Votes On Property Tax Increase

Monday, June 17, 2019
Sabrena Smedley is shown at the Pachyderm Club with Steve Highlander, Chester Bankston, Gary Behler and Darrin Ledford
Sabrena Smedley is shown at the Pachyderm Club with Steve Highlander, Chester Bankston, Gary Behler and Darrin Ledford
- photo by John Shackleford

Two County Commission members on Monday told members of the Pachyderm Club that they are no votes on a property tax increase.

Sabrena Smedley, who currently chairs the commission, said there are a number of unanswered questions about the school system, including how the latest test scores will turn out and how much in repairs the schools will face under a new study.

She said the schools had been guilty of "poor planning and years of neglect" to allow the buildings to get into the deteriorated shape. She said she expects that a company that was paid $500,000 for the study will come back with a figure of "half a billion dollars."

Another commissioner at the meeting, Chester Bankston, said he will not support the request for $34 million in school funds costing a 34-cent property tax increase.

He said the schools "throwed away a million dollars by switching bus companies."

The commission is set to vote June 26 on the increase that is backed by County Mayor Jim Coppinger and County School Supt. Bryan Johnson.

Chairwoman Smedley said she had been convinced to vote for a tax hike 20 months ago for school construction, but said she told officials at the time "it needs to be enough so we don't come back in a year or two asking for another tax increase."

She said, "As a conservative, I don't raise taxes every year."

The speaker said at a district meeting there were only six people in favor of the increase. She said, "I feel like I am expressing the will of my district."

She said the county schools will be getting an additional $18.9 million in local, state and federal funds for the upcoming fiscal year without a property tax hike.

She said between 2015 and 2019 the county schools have gotten $41 million in additional income. With the tax increase, it would be $101 million, she said.

Chairwoman Smedley also said a number of teachers are against the increase. She said teachers advised her that the school system plan is to increase the pupil-teacher ratio for the high-performing schools and lower it in the low-performing schools.

Commissioner Bankston said, "The low-performing schools were given $10 million a couple of years ago, and it didn't help."

He also recommended that the group "push for an elected school superintendent."

Chairwoman Smedley said, "How does more money to the Department of Education fix all the societal and community problems? I don't know how we get parents to love their children like God intended and to be a parent. Until the home life is changed, nothing is going to change."

She also said that raises should be focused on teachers and not high-paid administrators. She said Rep. Mike Carter and Senator Todd Gardenhire are working on a bill that would "define a teacher"
 to help funnel pay increases to those in the classroom. "That is very important," she said.

The speaker said some money was apparently freed up when no action was taken on building a $45 million Ooltewah sewage treatment plant and when county school officials halted a $25 million plan to move Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts to Tyner.

School board member Steve Highlander, who was also at the meeting at the International Towing Museum, said board members "have not been able to get an answer" on why the CSLA move was stalled.

He said the board also is having trouble getting accurate numbers on the size of the central office because he said a number of positions and personnel were moved around. "It's a shell game," he said.

Mr. Highlander said he led the group that negotiated with Supt. Johnson. He said Dr. Johnson "was represented by the same person who represented (former superintendent) Jesse Register. He first wanted $260,000." He said the outgoing superintendent, Rick Smith, was making $199,000. He said it was worked out that Dr. Johnson would be paid $197,500, but be able to earn up to $22,500 in pay incentives if certain goals are reached. 

 

 

 


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