The Hamilton County school board soon will have new leadership after its chairman, Everett Fairchild, announced his immediate resignation from the chairmanship Thursday evening because of ongoing health problems.
His departure means Vice Chairman Jeffrey Wilson will take on all of Fairchild's duties.
Fairchild still will be the District 3 board member, but he no longer will set the board's agenda or run the meetings. The chairman's votes carry no greater weight than other members.
Board members George Ricks and Linda Mosley quickly nominated and seconded a motion to make Wilson the permanent chairman, but that resolution died.
Other members, citing their surprise at the announcement, said they wanted more time to ponder over who should replace Fairchild. The board delayed any decision until its June 15 meeting.
Fairchild, 81, has been on the Hamilton County school board since 1997. He represents District 3, which covers Hixson and other northern parts of the county. He spent 37 years as a teacher and administrator in Chattanooga city schools and served as chairman of the city school board before the systems merged in 1997, according to newspaper archives.
In failing health in recent months, Fairchild has been absent at meetings, but returned to the chairman's post a month ago. On Thursday, he cited heart troubles as the reason he's stepping aside.
"I started this morning in the cardiac rehab unit, and that's an indication that I need to make a change in my lifestyle," Fairchild said.
In other business Thursday, board members reversed course and approved roughly $100,000 in funding for a junior ROTC program at Sequoyah High School in the 2012 school year.
Last month, the board froze any action on the 2012 budget after members couldn't agree how to shore up a projected $14.3 million budget deficit. Superintendent Jim Scales' budget proposal did not fund the JROTC program and several others, including new textbooks and an adult high school, as a way to make those cuts.
But on Thursday, board members voted 5-to-3 to approve the new JROTC program anyway. Fairchild, Rhonda Thurman, David Testerman, Mike Evatt and Joe Galloway voted for the program. Chip Baker, Wilson and Mosley voted against it. Ricks abstained from the vote.
Thurman, who led the discussion on the matter, said the school system could save money by using JROTC instructors to offset the load in crowded personal finance, social studies and PE classes. She said JROTC classes count in place of those classes, and that waiting might jeopardize future JROTC programs.
"I'm concerned we'll have to get at the back of the line if we turn down the Army," Thurman said. "I know East Hamilton and Signal Mountain [high schools] want ROTC programs, but it could be up to nine years if we don't approve this now."
Others opposed the move because the board said last month it would operate on a "continuation budget," which essentially binds them to spending the same amount of money the school system spent in the 2010 school year and nothing extra.
"We had several programs - 8, 10, 15 or so - that we were not funding," Wilson said. "If we're going to pick and choose, I think we should fund the adult high school, too, because I see kids drop out every day and they need that program, too."
Board members also finalized plans to swap land with the city of Red Bank for the construction of a Red Bank Middle School. The land swap had previously been approved by the Red Bank City Commission and the Hamilton County Commission.