Hamilton County Schools faces an $11.1 million budget shortfall but the chairman of its board wants to build a new career and technical high school.
“I don’t know how the administration will feel about it, but I almost don’t care,” he said Monday. “They still think of career and technical as a dumping ground.”
Speaking to members of the Pachyderm Club, Mr. Smith also addressed topics such as school discipline and the district’s budget for fiscal year 2009.
An electrician by trade, Mr. Smith acknowledged that now was probably a bad time to build another school — the district will open five new school buildings between August 2008 and August 2009. But Hamilton County is in desperate need of a 300- to 400-student school dedicated to teaching trade skills to students who don’t plan to attend a four-year college, he said.
The county system currently operates a construction academy at East Ridge High School in Mr. Smith’s district. Several other schools in the district operate academies, or small learning communities, dedicated to certain trades, but no one school is solely a career and technical institution. Several years ago, Hamilton County switched to a “single-path” diploma, eliminating the vocational education track.
Hamilton County Board of Education members Rhonda Thurman and Chester Bankston also attended the meeting and voiced their support for Mr. Smith’s idea.
“I love it,” said Mr. Bankston, also an electrician and owner of CB Electric. “This year we’re in a budget crunch. It may not happen in our term, but it doesn’t mean we can’t work toward it.”
With construction beginning on another Watts Bar nuclear unit in east Tennessee, more than half of the 500 electricians hired for the job were from outside Hamilton County because there weren’t enough local skilled laborers, Mr. Bankston said.
“There’s at least eight years’ worth of work up there,” he said.
Ms. Thurman said she has thought there should be a career and technical school somewhere along Amnicola Highway, now home to Chattanooga State Technical Community College. But in this budget year there should be other priorities, she said.
“It’s something we definitely need to take a look at, but not right now,” she said. “With the budget like it is, we shouldn’t do anything until we accomplish our goal of getting 90 percent of our money spent in the classroom.”
Mr. Bankston said he hoped the opening of the new East Hamilton Middle-High School in August 2009 would alleviate some of the crowding at Ooltewah High School and allow for some career and technical classes to be taught there.
Mr. Smith said he was tired of what he feels is an attitude that career and technical students are not as important as their academically minded counterparts. It is unrealistic to think that every student will go on to college, so there should be other options, he said.
“Students would need to apply to this school,” he said. “I don’t want kids coming from Hixson because they can’t behave; I want them to come from Soddy-Daisy because they want to.”
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...