published Friday, October 28th, 2011

Normal Park school zoning dispute on agenda

Only standing room is available for the audience during Thursday night's school board meeting. Among the topics discussed were zoning for Normal Park and transparency of the lottery system.
Only standing room is available for the audience during Thursday night's school board meeting. Among the topics discussed were zoning for Normal Park and transparency of the lottery system.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

After filling up the school board meeting room, about 60 residents of the Hill City neighborhood left Thursday's meeting deflated that board members didn't bring their concerns to a vote.

But the Hamilton County Board of Education said it will hear both sides of a years-long back-and-forth over zoning of Normal Park Museum Magnet School at a special meeting next week.

After hearing from many Hill City residents in recent months, board member Joe Galloway made a last-minute motion to add the item to Thursday's agenda. Families in the area are asking the school board to allow their students into Normal Park, instead of busing them several miles away to schools in Red Bank.

In 2007, the school board voted to expand Normal Park's boundaries to include the area of Bell and Spears avenues. But in 2010, then-Superintendent Jim Scales said the zone would not widen because of more families moving into Normal Park's boundaries.

Board member Chip Baker asked for a special meeting so the body could hear both sides of the issue.

"This is a longstanding discussion," he said. "We need to hear both sides. This is a chance to get all the information out there."

But residents said the school board has had plenty of time to learn about the issue.

Organizers said they've provided board members with census data and public records to help inform their decision.

"I think the board should have already looked at all the information they were given," said Hill City resident Nelson Barrios.

He said he was disappointed by the board's inaction and hopes next Thursday's meeting will be more fruitful.

"I wanted to see a vote," Barrios said. "I'm just concerned about the promise that was made. What I see is people taking the easy way out instead of fulfilling that promise."

Board member Rhonda Thurman said the neighborhood association had "begged us to meet" for months. She said she was well informed on the issue and ready to bring it to a vote.

"I don't have a problem with a discussion. I just hate to keep putting these people off," Thurman said. "I don't know what the purpose is."

A motion to postpone the issue until next week passed 6-1, with Thurman casting the only dissenting vote. Galloway, who represents the Hill City area, abstained from the vote; board member Linda Mosley was absent.

The board will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday to hear from Hill City residents, representatives of Normal Park and school district administrators, officials said.

Rhiannon Maynard, president of the Hill City Neighborhood Association, said she was surprised that board members requested more information. She's said she's been in contact with board members for months, providing CDs, binders and documents filled with information about demographics and data on students attending Normal Park.

"If there are school board members that need more information, sure we can do that. I'm just confused as to what additional information they need," she said. "I've been calling them for the past couple months -- all of them."

Maynard said the board should simply "make a plan and keep its promise" to solve the zoning issue. Hill City residents say the school should slow down the number of out-of-zone magnet students it lets in from the lottery process to make room for the students in its own backyard.

The Hill City neighborhood is about 1.3 miles from Normal Park Lower, while the upper school is less than a mile away, Maynard said. Red Bank schools are more than four miles away.

Maynard said residents aren't trying to wage a war against current Normal Park families.

"This isn't us against them," she said. "It is us trying to make community partners with our community school."

In other business, the board:

• Voted 8-0 to approve Phase I of a facilities plan that calls for an estimated $67 million in construction projects. The first phase calls for a new Ooltewah Elementary School, a new East Brainerd Elementary and additions and/or renovations at Snow Hill Elementary, Wolftever Elementary and Nolan Elementary. It also calls for an addition to Sale Creek Middle/High, though it notes the board should consider building a new school.

The board approved the plan, but has yet to approve specific spending measures.

Hamilton County, which funds the school system, announced this week it was able to free up $50 million for new school construction by refinancing existing debt. That allows the school board to move ahead on planning and construction for the new Ooltewah Elementary.

The board approved the county's amendment on the purchase of new property that calls for the school system to turn over revenues from the sale of the current elementary building to the county.

• Approved on a 8-0 vote a move by Galloway to make the lottery process for magnet schools transparent. Administrators said they were studying ways to make the lottery process fairer and easier to understand.

• Voted 7-1 on a resolution discouraging school vouchers. Board member Linda Mosley submitted the document. Rhonda Thurman voted against it. Hamilton County belongs to the Coalition of Large School Systems, which also represents Metro Nashville and Knox and Shelby county systems in an effort to oppose vouchers.

The group is aligning schools following the approval of a state Senate-approved bill that would have allowed thousands of students to claim vouchers to attend private schools.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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graceweeks said...

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October 28, 2011 at 2:15 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

Tennessee wants to pay some rich kid with our tax money to go to private school? That is insane.

October 28, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
Meece said...

I think most would agree thatit makes more sense that children in Hill City should go to NPMM rather than red bank. The problem is that the N. Chatt. area has grown so rapidly there isn't room at NPMM for all the children in N. Chatt. & the magnet families. I also do not think anyone would want to reduce the magnet spots because these bring a different kind of diversity to NPMM that is so important to the vitality of the school. The problem is the limited space. I doubt that many understand that our upper and lower buildings are some of the oldest school buildings in the county. I believe that the lower building is the only school in Hamilton County that doesn't have a parking lot (and that is one of the reasons the car pick-up backs up to Hixson Pike). Look at the real estate listings: this area has grown dramatically, and the top thing on real estate ads is "zoned for NPMM." So that is a part of this - investors who bought rental property in hill city stand to make a fortune if they enter the zone. Make no mistake, though, right of market and left of Barton is a working class neighborhood interspersed with many rental properties - this is the NPMM neighborhood and so it isn't just "some rich kid." The deeper issue is that so many families want to go to NPMM that they are willing to pay outrageous prices for small old houses - why can't the county make more schools like NPMM? In N. Chatt. we do not have the luxury of empty land that our neighbors in the suburbs and rural areas have, so when the county discusses spending $50 million dollars to build new schools in areas that have met with growth we are not a part of that discussion. So we have a dilemma = more children than we have space for, and no land to grow in space. It seems that there is no win for everyone. But I think there is another possibility. The Chattanooga High School building. Now don't misunderstand me. The School for Creative Arts is wonderful and I am not saying anything negative about it. But the School for Creative Arts is 100% magnet. There is no reason whatsoever that it has to be located in the N. Chatt. neighborhood. It has no tie to residential zones. It could be located anywhere in Chattanooga. And if the school board is planning to build new schools, then one of the new schools could be a brand new shining building for the School for Creative Arts that could be designed from scratch to support the unique needs of that program. Or, one of the buildings that is left empty when newer schools are built could house the Center for Creative Arts, leaving the Chattanoga High School building for neighborhood use. Because the neighborhood is growing, and because this neighborhood has limited space to build, this would be a system wide solution that would benefit all the kids involved - enough space in N. Chatt. for kids living in N. Chatt., and new space for the Center for Creative Arts.

October 28, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
abcdefghi said...

Thank you Meece for that balanced and thoughtful post. The TV media wants this issue to be about class or race. It is not - the issue is space and preserving Normal Park's magnet status. Being a magnet school makes Normal Park more diverse. The school system decided some time ago that magnet schools were a good idea. Much of Normal Park's success is due to being a magnet school. Opening the zone will create such an influx of in-zone kids that there will be no spaces for magnet students. The Central Office needs to stand up and take a position on this instead of hiding behind the parent groups. The Central Office wants Normal Park to remain a magnet school - it is time they said so. This is a magnet school issue - not Normal Park issue.

October 28, 2011 at 9:49 a.m.
chattyjill said...

Central Office would like to see the zone done away with altogether.

October 28, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.
CBIKAS said...

Dear Meece,

Hill City was in Normal Park's zone before 2007. And it was promised to be put back into the zone by 2010. That is a fact. I have the document to prove it. This was never about "space." It's about discrimination. Hill City is an historically minority, working class neighborhood. And the Rivermont wannabes don't want their school "denigrated" by including low income and minority children. It really is disgraceful.

The lottery doesn't bring diversity. On the contrary, every School Board member agreed last night that the lottery is broken and is creating even more discrimination. If you don't believe me, go check out Normal Park's racial demographics.

The truth is some Central Office staff and some School Board members are trading lottery slots for cash/favors. They don't want the gravy train to end.

The majority of Normal Park's students don't come from the zone. Frankly, the overcrowded roads every morning is a huge problem that is a constant pain for someone who lives in North Chattanooga like myself.

We can solve that problem by making it a community school. It saves on transportation costs. And, in the case of Hill City, it increased diversity at Normal Park. The only thing stopping it is the racist attitudes of some Normal Park supporters.

Normal Park is a public school. This attempt to make it a quasi-private school for the politically connected will end badly for the school system and the taxpayers. The School Board needs to correct course before it's too late.

Charles Bikas

October 28, 2011 at 11:02 a.m.
Meece said...

Charles it is not about discrimination. Yes, Hill City was to be in Normal Park's zone. You know, for a fact, that the population in the normal park zone has increased dramatically since 2007. You also surely can realize that there is no space to increase the schools. More children, no more space. That is just reality. I just made a suggestion that would allow for increased space, but you don't seem to have read it. Hill city is historically minority, but I wonder if it will continue to be so once you sell your property and an increased rate of return if you can say it is zone for NPMM? Probably not. You also said "the truth is" but you offer no proof whatsoever of that allegation. Where's your proof?You have none. It is a rumor you are spreading. Just like the rumor that the reason for Rhonda Thurman's vandetta against NPMM is that she couldn't pull strings and get her child in or favors for her friends. Or, like the rumor that you want to see Hill City zone for NPMM because you own rental property there and stand to make a mint. I don't know if that is true, either, but it is a rumor like the one you just wrote. I can tell you that I received no favors to get a magnet spot, and after not getting a magnet spot we rented a house in the zone. So it has certainly impacted the property value - I know if I owned property in Hill City I would be trying to play every card I could to see my property value go up like that. Go back and read what I wrote, Charles - make the Chattanooga High School building a part of NPMM and there would be more ROOM and there would be space for the Hill City residents. You could put prek-2 in the lower school, 3-6 in the upper and 7-12 in the high school. Think of what that would do for the property value. And the families served by the 100% magnet center for creative arts could benefit by receiving upgraded facilities. A constructive win for EVERYONE involved, and you don't even need conspiracy theories for it to happen. Stop pointing fingers and wining and think of ways to deal with the REALITY of the situation as it exits today and solutions that will benefit ALL families, not one group of families at the cost of another. That line of thinking- us vs. them - is the cause of the problem here, when we should be serving ALL of our children. Deal in reality, not conspiracy theories.

October 28, 2011 at 11:20 a.m.
newhome33 said...

What seems so strange to me is that, all this over one HAMILTON COUNTY school... its pittyful that whatever is making this school work, is not happening at other HAMILTON COUNTY schools.... instead of parents, teachers, neighbors and board members fighting about the so called space issue, why not take that same fight to some of the other HAMILTON COUNTY schools and make them as strong and wanted as NPMM....

October 28, 2011 at 1:08 p.m.
Muckiemesome said...

OK Meece, REALITY! 1. Over-crowding?: Capacity 960. source: Gary Waters HCDE assi. Super. Enrollment: 667 Source: TFP Right2Know school report card.

2 Not about Racism?: Between 2002-2010 1533 white people applied for the NPMM lottery 272 won that's 18%. During the same period 1148 black people applied for the NPMM lottery. 116 won that's 10%.

So Explain why white people win almost 2 to 1 over black people.

Source: HCDE from Hill City Neighborhood Ass. FOIA request.

  1. Magnet Diversity? NPMM has the lowest % of minority students of any Magnet school. Source: TFP

  2. Pre-K: Until recently you could pay $5000 for Pre-k and get free magnet status.

So, I know that simple facts are difficult and it is much easier to demonize people who bought "investment property" than it is to look at facts. You make several claims about real estate listings and property value. I challenge you to provide PROOF.

This issue is about fairness, promises made, and the Children of Hill City and nothing else.

October 28, 2011 at 2:20 p.m.
CBIKAS said...


I do not have any rental property in Hill City. I own a home next to Normal Park Upper and CCA - or, as my conspiracy theorist friends says the future "Normal Park High School". I will not buy any more property in Hamilton County, nor do I own any other property here because the property taxes in Chattanooga are simply absurd. And, if you doubt the sincerity of that statement, go ask Bill Bennett what I think of his rate increases. There's a judgement in my favor on the issue. And it's public record.

As for there being no room, the room was taken by a rigged lottery. I am happy to describe how that scam works. As I said before, the fact is that most Normal Park students come through the lottery. So this whole line about "there's no room" in the zone is just a lie.

Some really stupid people bought homes that were seriously overpriced in North Chattanooga. And now they are trying to prop up their home values by excluding Hill City. It really is pathetic.

Keep on preaching the Normal Park talking points. It won't save you. More coming soon...

October 28, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.
Momof3 said...

Wow...don't people ever get sick of fighting about this?

It was a neighborhood failed... It is a magnet...and by definition requires "magnet" students. I am a parent of 2 magnet students...we got in through the lottery, without any sort of bribes or anything. In fact, it was before anyone even wanted to attend Normal Park.

I'm pretty sure the people who live in the Hill City area were offered spots last year if they wanted to attend...of the 100+ offered, only around 40 accepted. Is that because the parents would have to make committments to the school just like magnet kids? Do they only want in if they have zoned status? I just don't understand that.

There are lots of rumors about the school, the neighbors, the property owners...and there is probably some truth and fiction in all of them.

I personally feel all "magnet" schools should be completely magnet. The setup of Normal Park was an invitation for exactly these types of arguments..and it's sad that Hamilton County has not found a way to make all of the schools as desirable as NPMM seems to be.

October 28, 2011 at 3:50 p.m.
ldurham said...

You Normal Park folks are hilarious. I wish you could hear yourselves over your racist blathering.

  1. "Instead of bickering over Normal Park, we should make all the county schools as good as Normal Park." OK. Since Jill Levine is such an amazing principal, why keep her at this school? She's already fixed it! Send her to Brainerd High, let her turn that one around too.

  2. "It's not about race." Yet this school has ZERO black teachers, despite dozens who were there when it was Chattanooga Middle School. Still quite a few black students who've managed to stay there (until they're phased out by the lottery). Can't say that about ANY other HC school.

  3. Many HC schools have gracefully, graciously accepted NCLB students in recent years. Even Signal Mountain High! But at Normal Park, you'd rather keep out students who live in a poor neighborhood, less than ONE MILE AWAY.

I agree with an earlier post: you can easily fix the daily BMW/Lexus traffic jam by weeding out some of the "lottery winners" and allowing neighborhood kids to walk to their neighborhood school: something they're not allowed to do now.

Let's hope the 2011 School Board, minus Normal Park's protector, Janice "Walmart" Boydston will do the right thing, and stand up for a nearby, diverse neighborhood and its children.

Let's hope they stand against an elitist, snobbish clique that has fought for years to keep these children out of their neighborhood school.

And please, Normal Park: keep your greedy hands off of the Center for Creative Arts. It is a great school that is working, without elitism, favoritism and racism.

October 28, 2011 at 4:49 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

April Eidson/Payingattention, I don't even know the staff at Normal Park. You and your little Normal Park groupies contacted me by e-mail first. I told you before to get lost. Now I'm telling you again. If anyone has an unhealthy obsession, it's you. But you continue to contact me. You're an obnoxious cow that tries to bully the poor and glorifies spreading malicious rumors. And you're fat.

As for CCA, they actually have minority teachers unlike Normal Park. And they don't target minority students for explusion. So, yes, I think CCA is a fine school. It also doesn't have a zone like Normal Park. The only reason Normal Park has a zone to begin with is because you and your cry baby friends whined so much the HCDE let you have one just to shut you up.

You failed, miserably, with TEAM Centers. And this racist attack on Hill City will end badly too. Trust me, I have a mountain of evidence. And I'm just going to save it until the right time.

Finally, a disclaimer, Hill City ( God Bless them ) want to take the high road with Normal Park's PTA. Frankly I think it's a mistake because racists like April Eidson don't know what a high road is. But, for the records, my statements are my own, not Hill City's.

Charles Bikas

October 29, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.
rosebud said...

Well said, Mr. Bikas! I sure hope the Hamilton County School Board, minus the shoplifting Normal Park cheerleader, will have the backbone to stand up for what's right. And April Eidson says NP is "first come, first serve on the lottery." Now that's funny! And speaking of high road, Ms. Eidson is displaying typical Normal Park tactics by attacking the CHILDREN of Ms. Crutchfield and Mr. Beeland, BY NAME. They're very talented young people who belong at CCA, which is a great school. Sort of like Normal Park, without the snobbery. And somehow, they have the black teachers that Jill Levine can't seem to find! Let's hope she doesn't take over that school too. She'll boost the black unemployment rate up yet again.

October 29, 2011 at 7:19 p.m.
rosebud said...

Don't worry Ms. Eidson, your side will no doubt win. The school board follows the money, and big money (Chip, Linda, your principal and their $$$ buddies) is backing Normal Park. The poor folks, as usual, don't have a chance. But seriously, you might want to invest in spell-check.

October 31, 2011 at 9:38 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

We met at the last Chattanooga Tea Party event. You were just too dumb to realize it. Several people have told me you're just a nag and to ignore you. Good advice. And I'm taking it.

October 31, 2011 at 9:45 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

Almost forgot, as for "RMP, LLC" I have no idea what this is and have nothing to do with real estate investments. This is just another sad attempt by April and her goon squad to demonize me as some kind of slum lord. Anyone who actually knows me realizes what complete garbage that is.

October 31, 2011 at 10:04 p.m.
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