I Still Don't Know Who I'm Voting For

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Election Day is upon us, and I still haven’t decided who I’m voting for in the HCS District 2 School Board race.

With their background and skills and passion for education, I sincerely think either would be a great addition to our Hamilton County Board of Education. Some perceive big differences between the two, but I don’t.

Both have experiences in financial management, which I think is hugely important for someone who serves on a board that reviews and approves a $417 million budget representing nearly 90 schools (many with vastly deferred maintenance needs) and more than 44,000 students and 6,000 employees.

Tom has more years working in financial management not only in his own business but also serving on boards of local community organizations and a college. Some people believe that, combined with connections he’s made during that time, makes him the stronger candidate.

Others who know Marco and his amazing entrepreneurial experience are firm in their belief that he’s the person for the job. I like that he’s involved with La Paz since so many of our at-risk students are among the Latino population, maybe not in D2 but district wide.

Some disagree, but I truly believe both men care about public education and doing what they can to improve our Hamilton County Schools.

However, some endorsements for each candidate do bother me.

I asked and never got a response from Marco about if he just supported or worked with UnifiEd, whose plan for our schools did not please me. I am not thrilled with Marco’s endorsement by and active support from members of Hamilton County United. This group was formed by people associated with Unified and is a radical group of some teachers who weren’t satisfied that the Hamilton County Education Association was doing enough to promote teacher demands.

Now those who truly know me know that I support teachers and education in general, but when a HCU leader referred to her group as a “teacher army” back in the spring, that just hit me wrong. Then, they blocked me from their “Hamilton County Supports Education” group after I agreed with Rhonda Thurman and a few other teachers who dared to question whether ‘then’ was the right time to press for teacher step increases when schools were closing, the economy was shutting down, and people were being laid off and losing jobs.

I have teacher and counselor friends active with Hamilton County United and Hamilton County Supports Education, while others think they’re too radical. Involvement doesn’t lessen my respect for anyone since the general premise of each group is basically good, and I know some teachers just want to protect their salaries and benefits and believe in group strength. It’s the leaders of these groups I don’t trust. I do believe Marco is his own person and will not necessarily be swayed by what this group might ask, but I just don’t like the association.

I don’t appreciate Tom’s endorsement by the Chattanooga Tea Party. That group has put out some atrocious ads vilifying Marco, and was not ashamed for doing so. I personally don’t know of anyone who was not shocked or offended by those.

However, I don’t hold Tom responsible for those as I don’t hold Marco responsible for mailers from supporting groups that include false or misleading claims about Tom.  Unfortunately, supporters of both candidates have made presumptions, accusations without supporting facts, and twisted words from each man. It’s been quite disgusting.

Unfortunately, Tom has been an easy target because of his public visibility and sometimes clumsy attempt to share his thoughts. People have been quick to jump on those and interpret them to fit their agenda and also quicker to react when Tom has tried to explain what he meant. It’s been both comical and sad to see this occur over and over again. We should all be better.

Marco hasn’t been an easy target because he expresses himself better (maybe because he’s been preparing longer for this race) and hasn’t engaged much on social media, instead leaving that to his campaign workers and supporters. I did enjoy the one live Q&A he conducted on Facebook and had hoped there would be more. I hope whichever candidate wins tomorrow does these on a regular basis.

It doesn’t really matter to me that Marco still has kids in our public schools now or that Tom’s kid(s) transferred to a parochial school after elementary more than a decade ago. (So did Kathy Lennon’s. Not a big deal then or now.)

Marco has been effusive about continuing work to make Hamilton County Schools even better but not really addressed specific issues other than supporting equity, which recognizes individual students may need unique supports instead of equal supports given to all students.

Tom has admitted he doesn’t like the word Equity because it has a negative connotation to him. He has said he believes in granting resources for all students to have opportunity to graduate with “a foundational education.” His focus is on increasing efforts to ensure every child can read at least on a 3rd grade level when they end that grade because studies have proven that is essential to continued progress.

There’s no doubt in my mind that both candidates care passionately about our kids and public education. 

Looking forward to this election being over so that our county and School Board can double down again  on efforts to make Hamilton County Schools the fastest improving district in the state of Tennessee!

Melissa Barrett


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