published Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Parents offer own plan for Hamilton County schools

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Parents Committee Report
Parents Committee Report

After feeling ignored by the Hamilton County Department of Education, a parent committee in the eastern part of the county is asking school board members to consider installing portables and using another year to gather growth information before signing on to the superintendent's proposed rezoning plan.

"We quickly discovered that we were not [meeting with HCDE staff] to provide our input to craft a solution but rather our attendance was perfunctory to give the illusion of community involvement," the parent committee wrote in its report.

"...[I]nstead of refuting our concerns with facts and research; they simply told us that they know what they are doing," the parents added.

Four committee members and two other parents met Saturday afternoon in the Hamilton Mill subdivision to discuss their next move in reaching out to board members.

The parents banded together several weeks ago in opposition to Superintendent Rick Smith's proposed rezoning in East Hamilton, designed to alleviate crowding in area elementary, middle and high schools.

Many parents were upset, saying that their children would be bused far from home, that kids' friendships would be strained by switching schools and that property values would drop.

They also were offended that the community has not been tapped to participate in the rezoning process, and they say overcrowding is a result of poor planning by officials.

"...[D]ecisions were made in the past without accurate data that included reasonable growth projections," the report asserts.

The committee's 18-page document tracks growth in the area and proposes several measures to mitigate school-switching.

The parents also found at least one discrepancy in the HCDE's reports.

The committee's document notes that the Regional Planning Agency set Ooltewah High's capacity at 1,400 in 2004, but the school's capacity is now listed as 1,800. Committee member Steve Purcell said he can't find any evidence to suggest that the school expanded during that time.

This is significant because the proposed redistricting plan will redirect students from East Hamilton High to Ooltewah High, which parents say could just cause new overcrowding problems there.

The committee recommends that the school board install 10 portable classrooms at East Hamilton Middle/High School for 500 to 600 students while a new middle school is built. Following this proposal, the school's current zone can be retained.

Parents said they expect resistance from school board members on portables as ugly and less safe.

"Every member of the board detests portables," Purcell said, "I understand that, but my children detest the taste of some of their medicine, too."

Parent Andy Hodes said the portables will be a reminder to school officials of poor planning in the East Hamilton area.

The committee's report also criticized elementary school rezoning, asking school board members to wait a year and collect more information before voting. Committee member Billy Stewart said he is especially against the proposed $5 million addition to Wolftever Elementary, a school the HCDE reports as only 64 percent full this year.

Parents are afraid that students will be bused to Wolftever instead of their local schools to satisfy capacity requirements.

The committee hopes that school board members will consider a new perspective before voting on the rezoning.

"The school board has always accepted everything given to them [by the superintendent] as the honest to God truth," Stewart said, "It's not good to never question anything."

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