The Hamilton County Board of Education unanimously approved on Thursday a grant application for about $1.8 million to help fund a science, technology, engineering and math school here.
Board members voted 7-0 on the district's application to the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, a partnership of the Tennessee Department of Education and the Battelle Memorial Institute, an independent research and development organization. Board members Joe Galloway and Everett Fairchild were absent.
If approved, the new school, planned for the Chattanooga State Community College campus, would eventually house about 300 high school students
The STEM school will be jointly funded by the grant, the school system and donations (cash and in-kind) from local businesses. Officials said Hamilton County Schools would have to put up about $462,000 in the school's first year.
That part still had some board members hesitant Thursday.
"Where is the money coming from?" said board member Jeffrey Wilson. "I know we don't have an answer. I am probably going to support this, but with much reservation."
Wilson pointed to the projected deficit of as much as $10 million in next year's schools budget.
Superintendent Rick Smith said the cost to the district would likely be new spending. But he said it would be a wise investment.
"I would expepct that that $462,000 would be something the board would have to look to add to next year's budget. Having said that, I fully support this. I think this particular initiative has so much value."
Board member Linda Mosley said the district needs to generate five-year budget projections to make such planning more effective.
"I do not want this to fail," she said.
Also at Thursday's meeting, teachers union leader Sandy Hughes, asked the board for more teacher planning time, especially at the elementary level.
"Planning time was created to give teachers time to plan and prepare for classes," said Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association. "Unfortunately, many people seem to have the idea that planning time is a teacher's break."
She said new curriculum, standards and evaluation procedures have left teachers overwhelmed and in need of more preparation time.
The board did not discuss the matter.
After Chairman Mike Evatt left the meeting for another commitment, remaining board members voted 4-2 to renew an agreement with a state lobbying group, failing to gain the five needed votes. Rhonda Thurman and David Testerman voted against the measure.
The Coalition of Large Area School Systems, or CLASS, provides lobbying services in Nashville for the state's five largest school systems -- Metro Nashville, Hamilton County, Knox County, Shelby County and Memphis City.
Mosley, Hamilton County's CLASS representative, said the $30,920 cost gives the district representation and information about goings on at the statehouse.
"They're our voice," she said.
Thurman said she wondered how effective the lobbying group was at dealing with legislators from other areas of the state.
"There's so many more of them than there are of us," she said. "I just wonder how beneficial it is to continue to do this."
While dozens of school systems are represented in Nashville, Hamilton County's superintendent said CLASS's five systems represent more than half of the state's public school students and employees.
Board members said they would address the issue at their Jan. 19 meeting.