Call for compromise in Normal Park zoning battle

Call for compromise in Normal Park zoning battle

March 9th, 2010 by Kelli Gauthier in News

A public meeting rife with criticisms, insults and outbursts ended with parents and school officials on both sides of a Normal Park zoning battle calling for a compromise.

Normal Park Museum Magnet School parent Jim Crooks called the meeting Monday night at the North Chattanooga Recreation Center to bring light to a different set of zoning and enrollment numbers: ones he came up with on his own. He said data provided by the school system didn't seem accurate to him, and he wanted to crunch the numbers himself.

He wanted those in attendance -- mostly current Normal Park parents -- to "think for themselves" and draw their own conclusions, he said.

"Look at both sets of numbers and make up your minds," he said.

Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Jim Crooks, whose children go to school at Normal Park, speaks at a community meeting at the North Chattanooga Recreation Center on Monday night about zoning issues for North Chattanooga students who want to attend Normal Park schools.

The issue is whether to expand Normal Park's zone to include students who live on Bell and Spears avenues in North Chattanooga. When Chattanooga Middle School closed in 2007, residents of the two streets were told their children could attend the popular magnet school beginning in 2010.

School officials now are saying that because of growth in Normal Park's zone, adding Bell and Spears avenues would overcrowd the school.

"When we talk about overcrowding a school, if we got rid of an art studio, science lab, our exhibits, music rooms, we could add more kids to our school," principal Jill Levine said. "But that wouldn't be the same school."

Mr. Crooks, who lives on Forest Avenue, said he wanted Normal Park to be a more diverse school for his children, who are in prekindergarten and first grade. He doesn't believe the school would be overcrowded as officials say.

"I want my kids to be able to intermingle with other kids that are not like them," he said. "If we're not overcrowded, then why not (add Bell and Spears)? If there's room at Normal Park, we need to honor the commitment we made two years ago."

But some in Monday night's crowd suggested Mr. Crooks had other motives.

He admitted he owns eight properties in the North Chattanooga area in question, but suggested that they be removed from rezoning consideration.

The proposal was met with load groans.

"The overcrowding will occur when Jim Crooks sells off his eight pieces of property," someone shouted from the crowd.

Parents also questioned Mr. Crook's use of the school directory to come up with his numbers. By his admission, not every family chooses to be in the directory.

"I counted for that in my numbers," he said. "I'm not saying my numbers are right."

Nelson Barrios lives on Hamilton Avenue and is not sure whether his house would be considered in any rezoning. Still, he came out Monday night to support the idea of expanding the zone.

"There was a promise made, and we need to abide by that promise," he said.

Briston Smith's children are Normal Park magnet students, which means he does not actually live in the school's zone.

"All of these schools built for this community, this community has been closed off from," he said. "If Signal Mountain cut off half the zone and (school officials) said they couldn't go there any more, Signal Mountain would not have that."

But along with several other parents, Mr. Smith suggested that people who live on Bell and Spears avenues, as well as current Normal Park families, should sit down and work out a compromise.

One compromise that was suggested was to still not include Bell and Spears avenues in Normal Park's zone, but give any families from those streets first priority in the magnet student lottery.

"It would be a way to do something without us having to go to portables," Ms. Levine said.

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