One meeting a month isn't enough time for the Hamilton County Board of Education to get along or get much done, its members decided Tuesday.
In a work session filled with raised voices, interrupting and finger-pointing, one of the few things all school board members agreed on was the need for a monthly agenda-setting session a week before each regular board meeting.
"We are very remiss in having just one board meeting a month. I think we owe it to our constituents to have an agenda meeting," said board member Linda Mosley. "The [regular] meetings can be a more pleasant experience for the students and teachers we are here to recognize, instead of the constant battle we seem to be facing."
Superintendent Jim Scales said he wrote a memo several years ago, suggesting the board hold monthly agenda meetings, partly to give board members a chance to discuss agenda items more than a few minutes before they must vote on them. Instead, the board decided to have Scales meet with members individually to brief them on what to expect from the meeting.
"We have too much business to get through once a month," Scales said. "I think what we've said tonight is absolutely the best way."
The first agenda meeting will take place before the March board meeting, Scales said.
Tuesday's work session was for the board to complete its annual self-evaluation. The biggest area of concern was a perceived lack of respect, honesty and trust between board members and the superintendent.
"I think you'd have to be at our meetings; I think you'd see," board member Chip Baker told a representative from the Tennessee School Boards Association who attended Tuesday's meeting. "There are people who support the superintendent, and there are those that don't. I think it's gotten worse."
While several board members expressed the need for more civil discourse during meetings, board member Rhonda Thurman spoke out against the need for all board members to agree.
"Do we all need to hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya'? We're not supposed to get along," she said. "There are a lot of 5-4 votes. Is that a bad thing? No."
Ultimately, the board decided the best way to have honest discussion was to start holding agenda meetings, similar to those held by the Hamilton County Commission.
"We'd have a little time to think about things before we have to vote," said board member Joe Galloway. "We'd probably make better decisions."
As it stands, board members will meet on the second Thursday of each month to discuss the following week's agenda. After each session, board secretary Ann Bates will finalize the agenda and mail it to board members and the media on Monday or Tuesday.
The board will then meet for its regularly scheduled meeting on the third Thursday of the month.
Contact staff writer Kelli Gauthier at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.
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, ...