Hamilton County school board 'let down' by fundraising

Hamilton County school board 'let down' by fundraising

May 18th, 2012 by Mariann Martin in News

Linda Mosely

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

ROTC honors

Col. Tom McConnell (retired), director of Hamilton County School's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, received applause from board members and the audience at Thursday's board meeting when he rose to announce ROTC honors.

It was the first time McConnell appeared in front of the board since being reinstated to his position as director in April.

McConnell was arrested on March 4 after witnesses accused him of fondling his 5-year-old granddaughter at a local restaurant. He faced a charged of aggravated sexual battery, but a Hamilton County grand jury decided not to indict McConnell.

HOW THEY VOTED:

On STEM funding:

Linda Mosley, David Testerman and Chip Baker voted no.

Mike Evatt, Rhonda Thurman, Greg Martin, George Ricks Sr., Jeffrey Wilson and Joe Galloway voted yes.

On bus transportation:

George Ricks Sr. and Jeffrey Wilson voted no.

Linda Mosley, David Testerman, Chip Baker, Mike Evatt, Rhonda Thurman, Greg Martin, and Joe Galloway voted yes.

The business community "let down" the school system and "disappointed" school board members by not adequately funding a science, technology, engineering and math school in Hamilton County, board members said Thursday evening during their monthly meeting.

Board members voted 6-3 to approve $500,000 from the school system's capital projects fund to ensure work continues on the school scheduled to open in August. They also approved a motion that would continue busing students currently in a school transfer program that is being phased out.

But the funding to renovate the former Olan Mills building at Chattanooga State Community College where 78 ninth-graders have been selected to attend was the primary subject of discussion.

The money was supposed to come from businesses in the community -- money the school board said they were promised.

"I feel let down," board member David Testerman said. "This really bothers me; if this can't be a strong partnership, how can it succeed?"

Board member Linda Mosley added, "To say I'm disappointed is an understatement."

Hamilton County received a $1.8 million state grant to fund the STEM program -- $1 million for a school and $850,000 for an associated "hub" to house partnering organizations.

The grant's approval was contingent upon receiving the support of higher education institutions, the philanthropic community and local businesses.

So far the business community has pledged $125,000 in money -- $100,000 from Unum and a $25,000 from First Tennessee Bank, Superintendent Rick Smith said Thursday evening. They have also received $145,000 in in-kind donations.

"I'm a little disappointed myself," Smith said. "After spending as much time as we have (in fundraising), I'm disappointed to report we have not reached our goal."

Smith said other businesses were considering pledges, and he was confident they would eventually get the money.

More than 30 businesses signed on to the initial project, Smith noted.

Even though six board members voted to approve the funding, several noted they did it reluctantly and would not approve additional funds if they did not receive more support from the business community.

TRANSPORTATION

Board members voted 7-2 in favor of continuing to transport students who are attending schools other than the ones they are zoned for under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Tennessee received a waiver in February and is no longer required to follow the law, which means new students will not be allowed to transfer out of federally failing schools.

But Smith said he felt it was important to allow the students to remain in their schools until they graduated and to provide transportation. The motion approved Thursday night will need to be approved on an annual basis.

About 344 students fall into that category right now, Smith said. Transportation costs have averaged about $830,000 a year, but Smith said those costs will decrease as more students graduate.

Board member Jeffrey Wilson, who voted against the motion, said he thinks the transfer program needs to continue. There is huge disparity among the schools in Hamilton County, with some schools providing much better programs and education than others, he said.

"Some schools are still not making adequate progress," he said. "I think it's a legal right and moral right for all our children to get a quality education."

Board members also requested clarification of what rules would apply to chaperones on summer field trips after the Tennessee State Board of Education recommended this week that five Signal Mountain Middle/High School staff members have their licenses be suspended for one year after drinking alcohol on a senior trip.

Those five members and two others were suspended without pay in April after the county schools' central office staff investigated their behavior during the five-day cruise to the Bahamas in March. They were chaperones on the trip.

Board attorney Scott Bennett said the policy is clear that any school staff who volunteered to chaperone would be considered to be in a professional capacity during the entire trip and would have abide by all the rules of professional conduct.