published Saturday, July 16th, 2011

School board shifts position

The turnover of school superintendents has not changed the challenges that confront the Hamilton County school system. It has, however, visibly changed the tenor and tack of school board members who previously gave no support to Dr. Jim Scales, but now provide it to his replacement, Rick Smith.

Last week, for example, board chairman Mike Evatt, who wrote the terms for the buyout of Dr. Scales’ contract, praised the new state report that showed standardized test scores in Hamilton County schools improved in all subject areas last year in grades three through eight. Though he gave no credit for the improved scores to Dr. Scales’ administration for keeping the system’s focus on support for teachers in four lean budget years, he called the report of test improvement “great news.”

That was no exaggeration. The percentage of students who earned proficient or advanced scores rose 6.9 percent over the previous year in math, 3.9 percent higher in reading, 4 percent higher in science, and 1.5 percent higher in social studies.

Then on Thursday, Evatt teamed with Smith in support of a proposal to ask the County Commission to release several million dollars in PILOT funds to the school system. These are payments-in-lieu-of-taxes that are collected for schools when other property taxes are abated to lure new industries, such as Volkswagen and its supplier plants.

Scales rightly sought the new PILOT funds, but when the County Commission wrongly withheld them, the school board members who opposed Scales also failed to support his demand for the school-dedicated funds.

Owing to this lack of support from five of the nine school board members, Scales was forced to draw up a budget that cut $14 million for the new fiscal year. Smith has just introduced a budget that would cut $18 million. But he said Thursday that he would cut less than that if he and the board can persuade the county to turn over the new PILOT funds.

Evatt told the board he had spoken to several commissioners and was optimistic that they may release the PILOT funds. “Once they see we are doing what is right, they may say ‘OK’,” he said.

School advocates should welcome the shift of Evatt and, presumably, other board members who had failed to support Scales’ request for the PILOT funds. The system clearly needs the money. It is still short the second $12.5 million in annual state BEP funding that has been promised by state government since 2007.

Gov. Bill Haslam told this page months ago that he presently sees no way to provide Hamilton County schools the second half of the $25 million expansion in state school funding due to the post-recession decline in state revenues. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen initiated the $25 million adjustment in 2007 to equitably balance state school funding and pull up Hamilton County, which had been dead last in state per-pupil funding.

But Bredesen withheld the second $12.5 million annual installment in redistribution of BEP funds for Hamilton County schools due to the recession that hit in 2008 and the resulting sharp decline of state revenue. The continuing inequity nonetheless continues to harm this county’s students.

The state’s funding shortfall, coupled with the County Commission’s refusal to provide a periodic property tax increase for schools, forced Scales to whack $30 million from a status quo budget over the past four years. It’s past time for the school board and the County Commission to improve funding for the school system to avoid the cuts in teaching and staff positions and building maintenance that Scales, and now Smith, had to propose.

That makes it all the more notable that county commissioners and the anti-Scales faction of the school board would not seek better funding until they hounded Scales out of office, and now they might since Scales is gone. Their differing responses is a telling commentary on their integrity and principles with respect to their public responsibilities for the school system.

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328Kwebsite said...

The County Commission will never release those PILOT funds because they have realized that since those "aren't" "taxes", then they don't have the tax regulations that go along with them. This means they can keep those creative accounting funds until some law enforcement agency directly takes it out of their accounts. That could be a long time.

July 16, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.
rosebud said...

Ummm...Harry: stop and think. (I know, you're out of the habit of thinking. It's so much easier to cut and paste). Do you think maybe, just maybe, the public, the school board and the county commission got tired of Scales' drunken-sailor spending on awful PR, overpaid consultants and failed programs?

Let's give the new majority a chance to clean up his mess, and perhaps this sinking ship will be righted.

As for rising test scores, yes it's true. Every school system in Tennessee saw increases. Most, higher than Hamilton County. Evidently they went up in spite of Stumblin' Scales, not because of him.

July 16, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

Evatt told the board he had spoken to several commissioners and was optimistic that they may release the PILOT funds

They may release the funds? With Scales gone, it's a done deal!! Their goal all along was to oust Dr. Scales by making him appear as incompetent as possible.

July 16, 2011 at 8:52 p.m.
rolando said...

As it turns out, their goal was easily met, amnesty.

July 16, 2011 at 9:36 p.m.
fairmon said...

The county commission is playing the same game with schools as congress is playing regarding the national budget. The county can fund the schools much better without raising property taxes by saying no to many special interest and favor showing that are not appropriate. The authority to withhold the funds is not clear and should be aggressively addressed through legal channels.

If the county commission wants to manage the school system they need to abolish the school board and run the school system. It would probably be a catastrophe unless county government takes over city government and does away with the city commission. The financial benefit to every county citizen is significant if done properly. It won't happen, people are to scared of drastic changes even if it is in their best interest.

July 17, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.
chet123 said...

SCALES,REYNOLD,REGISTER....ALL DID A GREAT JOB....INSPITE OF HAVING RHONDA THURMAN CONSPIRE AGAINST THEM.....RHONDA THURMAN COMPLAINTED, PROTESTED, CONLLUDED AND BACK STABBED THOSE 3 MEN FOR 13 YEARS ....SINCE SHE HAVE ILLEGALLY PLACE A PERSONAL FRIEND AS SUPERINTENDENT NOW SHE'S HAPPY....SHE CAN MANIPULATE THE WEAKER RICK SMITH....ONLY IN HAMILTON COUNTY WILL YOU EVER HEAR SUCH FOOLINESS...

July 17, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.
timbo said...

it's over, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah . it's still over , yada yada yada yada yada yada . there is still 5-4 majority , rich smith is still superintendent , blah blah blah blah blah blah blah and if you all are still whining . did a cover everything ?

July 17, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.
chet123 said...

TIMBO...WANT TO BET ON IT?.YOUR BULLDOZING ATITUTE IS WHAT GOING TO COME BACK AND HUNT YOU. ITS FAR FROM OVER..IN CASE YOU DIDNT HEAR THE FIRST TIME..ITS FAR FROM OVER!

July 17, 2011 at 10:19 p.m.
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