published Friday, April 20th, 2012

Hamilton County Schools approve rezoning package

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IN OTHER BUSINESS

The school board also approved its $384 million budget with a 7-2 vote. Board members Linda Mosley and Rhonda Thurman voted against the measure. The 2013 budget will now move to the Hamilton County Commission for approval.


HOW THEY VOTED

Yes

• Joe Galloway

• Mike Evatt

• Greg Martin

• George Ricks

• Rhonda Thurman

No

• Linda Mosley

• David Testerman

• Jeffrey Wilson

Abstain

• Chip Baker

After two efforts to stall the measure, calls for more information and a plea from parents to hold off, a controversial rezoning package for schools in East Hamilton County was approved Thursday evening.

Hamilton County Board of Education members went back and forth on how to best handle overcrowding at East Hamilton Middle-High School and other schools in that area but eventually voted 5-3 in favor of rezoning, with one member abstaining.

Those voting against the plan to move hundreds of students from the East Hamilton area into Ooltewah schools said schools administrators should provide better and more recent data before they proceed, while those in favor of the rezoning said something had to be done soon to relieve overcrowding.

Board member David Testerman expressed frustration that school administrators first put together the plan, then parents got involved, but the school board itself has been pretty much out of the picture.

"The school board's been left out of this just way too much," said board member David Testerman. "We get information, but we only get information when they're pushing for a decision."

The rezoning proposal was unveiled in late February and immediately met with criticism from parents, who raised questions about the school system's methodology and transparency during its rezoning process.

In March, the board assigned a parent committee to review the plans after families had staged a protest at the school system's central office and began collecting signatures on a petition against the rezoning. But Steve Purcell, who was allowed to speak on behalf of the parent group, said administrators ignored their requests for information and presented contradictory figures on school capacities.

"There are still more questions than answers," he said.

He asked the board, which wasn't involved in the parent committee, to work with parents to create a better, more long-term solution.

Board member Rhonda Thurman said parents protesting the rezoning plans had been given special treatment. She brought pictures of the rusty, leaky portable classrooms used by middle school students in Sale Creek, conditions that she said wouldn't fly for parents in the East Hamilton area.

Thurman said families in newer subdivisions shouldn't get priority over those who have lived in areas such as Sale Creek for years.

"Some of these people have been paying taxes in this county for generations," she said. "These Johnny-come-latelys can wait their turn."

Two motions were put forth on the rezoning vote -- one to table it temporarily and another to hold off for one year -- but both failed.

After the meeting, parents said the board had wasted the public's time in creating a parent committee they weren't serious about.

"I don't think they ever had any intention of considering anything they had to say," said parent Misty Butler, whose home is set to be rezoned. "This is exactly why people spend their hard-earned money to go to private school."

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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