published Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Schools, Hamilton County agree to further PILOT talks

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    Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith, left, listens as Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey talks during a meeting Wednesday at the Hamilton County Department of Education.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Four Hamilton County commissioners, four school board members and school Superintendent Rick Smith agreed Wednesday to further talks about how to spend $1.15 million in education funds currently being kept by the county.

As a result, Commissioner Chester Bankston said he would agree temporarily to table his effort to return to the school board control of the pot of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, money earmarked for education.

PILOT agreements are tax breaks used to lure companies, such as Volkswagen. Under the agreements, businesses don't have to pay full property taxes for a certain number of years, but they must pay the share of property tax that is slated for schools.

Commissioners voted in February to become gatekeeper of revenues resulting from PILOT agreements made in recent years. Those agreements will produce an estimated $3 million a year in education funds from the likes of Volkswagen and Amazon.

Bankston voted for the measure then, but now says there's a new superintendent he trusts to manage the money well.

"I just felt like that we're actually trying to micromanage the school system," said Bankston, a former school board member. "It's their money and I didn't feel like we should be telling them how to spend it."

In July, Smith was chosen to replace former Superintendent Jim Scales, who had a contentious relationship with the County Commission, which doles out the school system's budget.

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    Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston from District 9

Commission Education Committee Chairman Warren Mackey called the Wednesday meeting to address Bankston's request to return the PILOT funds to the school board. He told Smith and four school board members who attended that commissioners wanted to see a plan for the money.

"We're in a political environment where you have everybody saying, 'Let's live within our means,'" Mackey said. "[The commission] is going to be very sensitive to every penny of tax money it collects."

Commissioners Jim Fields and Tim Boyd asked why school representatives hadn't presented proposals for the $1.15 million collected this year.

"The only thing the commission is asking is that we are in the loop about exactly what those funds are going to be used for," Boyd said.

After the meeting, Smith said he would prefer the commission not attach strings to how the school district spend its PILOT funds. He doesn't want school officials to have to approach the commission for PILOT money every time a capital expense comes up, he said.

"I would prefer that step not be there," he said. "Obviously, I would prefer that we have trust and accountability already expected of these dollars."

Smith said he will discuss the next steps with the school board in a meeting today.

Though Bankston agreed to allow the school board time to present a proposal for the PILOT money, he said after the meeting that he still wants the funds to be controlled by the school board.

"They're an elected body as well," Bankston said. "They're responsible; they're accountable."

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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328Kwebsite said...

PILOT agreements are tax collection under a lying name. These monies won't ever be released by our corrupt Republicans on the county commission.

What evidence do we have that this school superintendent, who was installed under the new "Slaves Learned to Read" educational policy of County Commission Republicans, has any political clout whatsoever?

Why is anyone talking to him? He is in control of nothing.

Who cares how he thinks the money should be spent? He is not in charge of himself, much less 1.5 Million dollars being held unethically by the County Commission.

Denying the identity of something is an old lawyerly trick; we see that lie being put to its full utility under the corrupt, self-appointed, self-paying officials on the County Commission.

The mere installation of the School Superintendent has probably cost us this very $1.5 Million. Look at the cost of paying out Superintendent Scales' contract early. Look at the unbudgeted, unprojected costs of Superintendent Smith's salary. Look at the unbudgeted, unprojected costs of all of the raises and promotions which followed. How were those jobs created if they didn't involve terminating teachers, principals, administrative support employees or school service workers? Someone else must have lost jobs in those moves, and those jobs had a cost whose replacement was not publicly admitted.

Stop allowing local Republicans to lie to you about the collection of taxes in this area. These people are misusing tax dollars for their own personal political gain when those monies are for educating schoolchildren.

Lying about the name of a tax to call it "PILOT" doesn't make it something other than a tax in the eyes of men. We all know what's what. These county officials have been lying and paying themselves with our tax money all year.

Stick it to 'em at election time. Maybe they won't appoint themselves to another paycheck.

Even "slaves learned to read" the word "Corruption."

September 29, 2011 at 1:31 a.m.
joneses said...

Here is what I do not undersand. If a kid gets to the 9th grade and cannot read why does the corrupt democrat, socialist unions forbid the school system from firing the 8th grade teacher?

September 29, 2011 at 7:29 a.m.
ChattanoogaVol said...

I'm curious as to how this $1.15 million has been invested. Surely, it's not just sitting there. Anyone?

September 29, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

Jonses -

Chances are it wasn't the oh so evil union that kept that teacher in place, it was who the teacher has befriended or is related to in the administration or at Central Office. I am sick to death of people blaming tenure and teacher's unions for everything that is wrong with education. Tenure is a guarantee of due process, not a guarantee of a lifetime job. If a school can't get rid of a bad teacher, that school has lazy administrators who aren't documenting that teacher's failures. Of course, if I child who should have basic reading skills by 3rd grade has managed to get all the way to 9th with nothing, and has no documented serious learning disabilities, then where have the parents been all this time? Haven't they noticed that their child cannot read? Are they the type of parents that throw a fit when a teacher has suggested that Little Johnny be retained because of his reading skills? How many times have they run to Central Office threatening a lawsuit if Johnny is not promoted because he "NEEDS" to play football/basketball/baseball and retention would make him ineligible for a year? And let's not forget little Johnny's responsibility in all of this - has he attempted to do his work or does he just sit on his butt and take up space? If he's decided he doesn't have to do anything and he has parents who threaten and make excuses for his lack of concern for everything he doesn't do, the best teacher in the world wouldn't make a difference.

Of course, this article is about school funding so I'm assuming you just wanted to throw in some inaccurate teacher/union/Democrat/"socialist" (please read to find out what Socialism actually means before using it again) bashing in for no apparent reason.

September 29, 2011 at 4:12 p.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

"It's their money and I didn't feel like we should be telling them how to spend it."

Yeah, glad you've finally realized that. You were elected to run the county's general government. The school board was elected to run the county's schools. You may have a legal right to the money (though I don't see how), but you never had an ethical right to it.

September 29, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.
Selah said...

VOTE...or middle class and working poor will continue to suffer under Republican controlled Congress and local regime. The way we speak is by the VOTE...not high paid lobbyist and Corker Million Dollar man influence

September 30, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.
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