Thurman walks out of school board meeting on Normal Park

Thurman walks out of school board meeting on Normal Park

November 18th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

One North Shore condominiums are on Manufacturers Road.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Rhonda Thurman is seen in this file photo.

Rhonda Thurman is seen in this file photo.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should One North Shore condominium residents be included in the Normal Park zone?

The second meeting in as many weeks regarding rezoning at Normal Park Museum Magnet School grew so contentious that one school board member walked out and missed the vote altogether.

School board members Chip Baker and Linda Mosley asked the board to consider rezoning One North Shore condominiums into the Normal Park zone. That, just two weeks after the board voted 5-4 to move homes in the Hill City area into the zone of Normal Park, a high-performing school that includes students from a neighborhood boundary as well as magnet students from across the county.

Some board members thought the discussion over One North Shore was a waste of time and that the board should focus on other schools that don't perform as well as Normal Park.

"There are other kids that are just as important as the kids at Normal Park," said board member Rhonda Thurman. "We have beat this horse to death."

North Chattanooga parents have often asked for inclusion in the Normal Park zone. Thurman said the board was focusing too much time on a few hundred students, while ignoring the needs of tens of thousands of other students in Hamilton County.

Thurman previously said she doesn't like the concept of magnet schools because they hurt neighborhoods and neighborhood schools.

"Next time it's on the agenda, I just won't show up," Thurman said. "That will probably make a lot of people happy."

Normal Park Upper School Principal Jill Levine showed board members posters with real estate listings in the Hill City area. Many of those properties had become under purchase contracts, since the board's Nov. 3 vote, she said.

"This is about money," Levine said.

Shaking her head, Thurman exited down the center aisle of the nearly full board room during Levine's presentation. She missed the rest of the meeting - including the vote.

One North Shore was previously in Normal Park's zone, but was excluded later because of what administrators said was overcrowding. The condos, ranging in price from $170,000 to $500,000, are now zoned for Brown International Academy.

While he disagreed with letting in Hill City residents, Baker said the two areas should be treated equally.

"In fairness, One North Shore should be part of that," he said.

Karen Culp, who is expecting her first child, asked the board to include the condos in the Normal Park zone. She purchased her One North Shore home in 2009 with the expectation that her students would attend the North Chattanooga school.

"One North Shore did use that as a selling tool," she said.

Culp noted that the building only has one or two other families with children, meaning the risk of causing overcrowding is slim.

"The building does not target families," she said.

Normal Park parents and staff present at both meetings vehemently opposed any expansion of the school's zone.

The board ultimately voted 7-1 to table the issue, with Thurman absent and Baker casting the only dissenting vote. Board members said they needed to wait until they heard about the district's plans for phasing in Hill City residents to Normal Park.

In its previous vote, the board instructed staff members to draft a plan for slowly adding the new zoned students, so as not to overwhelm the school.

In other business, the school board agreed with a staff recommendation to deny an application for a new charter school.

The New Consortium of Law and Business applied to open a sixth- through 12th-grade school here focused on business and law, similar to an existing school in Shelby County.

Administrators had several issues with the application and scored it at 65.53 of a possible 100 points - well below the approval threshold of 80 points.

If it chooses, the group may amend and resubmit its application within 15 days.

PLEASE NOTE: The Times Free Press is closing comments on this story due to the nature of some comments.

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