published Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Schools pose obstacle to Dalton-Whitfield merger

  • photo
    David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, Ga., stands inside of the City Hall facility.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. — Any move to consolidate Whitfield County and Dalton city governments may have reached an insurmountable roadblock if both school systems have to be involved in the process, leaders said Monday evening.

Local legislators agreed late Monday afternoon to ask if state Attorney General Sam Olens would offer an opinion on whether Dalton City Schools would lose its charter if the city’s charter were dissolved in a referendum vote, County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said.

City and county leaders began moving forward with consolidation efforts about a month ago and had requested that local legislators authorize a charter committee to study the issue and create a new charter. Attorneys had said they did not think either school system would be affected if the issue were put on the ballot in November 2012 and passed.

Last week there was an abrupt reversal of that position, with leaders and the attorney for Dalton City Schools saying any consolidation effort may have to include the schools if the Dalton City Schools charter were dissolved.

“To say this put a little hiccup in the process is an understatement,” Babb said. “If you get the school systems involved, you get a lot of history and a lot of emotions — what schools your children graduate from and what sports team they play. I’m not sure the city people want the city schools to go away or that the people in the county want to take over the schools. There may not be much support to try to merge four different entities at once.”

Getting a ruling from Olens would help settle some of the conflicting opinions regarding the school charter, Babb said.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said local lawmakers did not want to move ahead with legislation to create a charter commission without approval from both school systems.

Dalton city school leaders had “killed” the consolidation effort, said Pennington, who has been a strong supporter of consolidation and critical of some city schools’ spending.

Government leaders did not discuss consolidation at separately held City Council and County Commission meetings to conduct routine business Monday evening. The Dalton Board of Education is scheduled to discuss consolidation at its meeting on March 14.

County commissioners approved $107,345 out of the capital budget to buy five cars for the sheriff’s office. Money to equip the cars would be necessary later, finance director Ron Hale told the commissioners.

Both city and county approved an intergovernmental agreement to do certain work, including hauling debris and installing turning lanes, for a planned retail and restaurant development in front of Walmart and Home Depot.

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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