Signal Mountain plots next steps for independent school system viability discussion

Signal Mountain plots next steps for independent school system viability discussion

November 1st, 2017 by Myron Madden in Community Signal Mountain

Community members listen as SSVC members describe the findings detailed in their final report during a public presentation Oct. 18. The committee is holding another such meeting in the Signal Mountain Town Hall gymnasium Nov. 6. (Staff photo by Myron Madden)

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

From SSVC Chair John Friedl:

Please bear in mind that the role of the SSVC has been, and continues to be, to investigate and report on the viability of a potential independent municipal school district. The purpose of the public forum is not to consider opinions as to whether establishing a school district on Signal Mountain is something that should be pursued. Community members will have the opportunity to present their views on the advisability of such action at future meetings of the Signal Mountain Town Council.

The committee recommends that all members of the community take the opportunity to read the SSVC final report, which is posted on the town of Signal Mountain’s website.

Signal Mountain's School System Viability Committee is hosting the first in a new series of informational public sessions Monday, Nov. 6.

The educational meetings are the first step in the Signal Mountain Town Council's two-phase plan to obtain input from the public about the possibility of breaking away from Hamilton County Schools.

Much like the SSVC's Oct. 18 presentation, committee members will spend the first 30-45 minutes of next week's meeting outlining the results of their investigation. They will then answer questions from the community related to their final report.

The goal of the meeting, said town of Signal Mountain Mayor Chris Howley, is to ensure everyone following the viability issue has all of the facts before moving on to the second phase of the process, when community members will be invited to share their opinions about whether or not a separate school district is something they want.

Vice Mayor Dick Gee agreed, calling the process of following up the report with citizen inquiry and opinions a "logical progression."

"If [their opinion] is not an evaluation of the report, then it's either a pre-held decision or a close-mind decision," he said. "They're not open to the question."

Town council member Amy Speek said the new meetings will give the community a chance to do something it hasn't been able to do until now: ask the SSVC members questions directly.

"They've been wanting to ask questions for nine months. They've had the report for two weeks," she said. "... Let's let them ask questions."

SSVC Chair John Friedl agreed that public inquiry has been a valuable element missing from meetings, explaining that the line of questioning was prohibited during committee work sessions because it would have "dramatically increased the amount of time we spent and it would have distracted us from the job we were doing."

"Now that we're done with that," he continued, "I think it would be very appropriate for as many of the members of the committee as want to and as are willing and able to do that ... [to] have a series of public meetings where people could come and ask good questions and we'll do our best to answer them."

He added that the meetings could also serve as a way to help clear up any misconceptions about the town's motivations for looking into the split, citing fellow committee member Susan Speraw. When briefing the SSVC on the results of its public education quality survey, Speraw noted the wide range of community assumptions the council may need to clarify.

SSVC members will host about two or three informational sessions over the next two months before the town council reconvenes during its December work session. Council members will then decide their next step, Howley said, whether that be planning more meetings, starting the public input sessions or moving in a different direction.

"We're in no hurry to come to a decision for a referendum or anything," Speek added. "We're just answering questions."

The Nov. 6 meeting commences at 7 p.m. in the Signal Mountain Town Hall gymnasium. Community members are encouraged to email their questions to ssvcquestions@signalmountaintn.gov prior to the event. Questions submitted in advance will be given priority, after which time the floor will be open for attendee questions as time permits.