Hamilton County education committee chairman welcomes idea of meeting with school board

Hamilton County education committee chairman welcomes idea of meeting with school board

February 22nd, 2014 by Alex Harris in Local Regional News

Warren Mackey of Chattanooga

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

A list of six much-needed school construction projects, totaling $140 million, gained school board approval this week, but to hash out the priority order for the projects, board members asked for a joint work session between their facilities committee and the Hamilton County Commission's education committee.

The school board asked that the meeting be held Thursday, but no official time or date has been set.

The commission's Education Committee Chairman Warren Mackey said that the school board had requested a meeting with his committee for Thursday at 3 p.m. at the board's offices, and that he "welcomes the idea" because it "makes sense to communicate" about the funding issue.

Board of Education members easily approved the school project list even though some disagreed over which projects should be prioritized first. Board member David Testerman cast the only "no" vote.

The proposed projects include:

• A combined replacement school for two of the county's oldest elementary schools, Ganns Middle Valley Elementary, 77 years old, and Falling Water Elementary, 102 years old; cost $26 million;

• A replacement school for Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, which is to serve students in grades K-12; cost $45 million;

• Additions to Wolftever Creek and Nolan elementary schools, cost about $5 million each;

• An addition at Sale Creek Middle-High School, cost about $20 million;

• An expansion at East Hamilton Middle-High School, which opened in 2009 at 95 percent capacity; cost about $40 to $45 million.

Testerman said he is "vehemently opposed" to the order the projects were listed in, and suggested that CSLA should top the list of the building projects because of the national recognition the school has received since 2005 and its place at the top of a former projects list.

"We need to do what we have said we would do, and we need to be -- I feel -- good stewards of the money of this county," he said. "I am opposed to anything other than CSLA being our No. 1 priority, and Sale Creek being No. 2."

Board member Rhonda Thurman also took issue with the order in which the projects were listed. She said it is "a disgrace" that all of the middle school classes at Sale Creek are being held in portables in the parking lot. The needs at Sale Creek, she added, have been included on long-range facility plans since 1999, and its overcrowding issues still have not been addressed.

"At least the kids at CSLA have a school. These kids do not," Thurman said.

Board member Greg Martin told his colleagues that although he understood all of the board members represent different areas of the county, he was concerned by the attitude of "we versus them" that seemed to be growing among board members, because the "real losers" in that situation would be the taxpayers and the children of Hamilton County.

"At the end of the day, we look at our professionals to give us good recommendations," Martin said. "I, for one, am going to be supportive of this. And let the County Commission -- let them tell us how much money that they're going to invest in public education. And I hope that they can find it in their hearts to find the money to fund every one of these."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.