Cooper: One less Signal Mountain worry

Cooper: One less Signal Mountain worry

December 6th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Residents give their opinions during a town council meeting nearly a year ago on the possibility of Signal Mountain forming its own school system.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Some Hamilton County residents who oppose the town of Signal Mountain creating its own school system are attempting to set up a straw man to create further animus toward such a move.

That straw man is inequity.

The claims are made that if such a system is created, removing Thrasher and Nolan Elementary schools and Signal Mountain Middle/High from the Hamilton County school district would increase whatever inequities the system is plagued with now.

That's hogwash.

We wouldn't presume to say it's prudent at this point for the town to create its own system, but Signal Mountain residents should not assume that choosing to do so would change anything about equity in the district.

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In fact, one could make the argument that the schools leaving the Hamilton County system actually would make the district more equitable.

After all, removing three of the highest performing schools from the district would no longer skew district scores on standardized tests. Not having the three schools would cut down on complaints about some parents being able to foot the bill to give their children the "extras" that other parents in high poverty areas can't afford. Not having to serve the three schools would decrease the cost of the district's maintenance operations and remove a chunk of money from the amount the county has to pay bus drivers.

And, if Signal Mountain wound up having to pay for its school buildings or build new ones that resulted in the county selling the valuable property on which they lie, the county would have a windfall of millions of dollars to spend as it chose.

Because of the relative isolated geography of the town — atop Signal Mountain — the schools already are less racially diverse than those in the rest of the county. Nolan is 94 percent white, Thrasher is 95 percent white and Signal Mountain Middle/High is 93 percent white. If the town were to create its own system, the racial makeup of the schools would change very little.

The only way the town could be accused of creating inequity would be if busing were still used to create a racial balance in schools as it was in the 1970s. If the county were busing enough minority students up Signal Mountain to create a school that "looked like" the rest of the county (75.8 percent white), the town pulling the schools out to create its own district would give voice to the inequity argument.

Good reasons to separate from, or stay in, the district exist. Signal Mountain officials have been attempting to flesh out those reasons for a year and have determined a separate district is viable if the town can overcome three obstacles. Those obstacles — control of the buildings, the inclusion of residents of Walden and other unincorporated areas, and how the town would contribute to its school district — aren't insurmountable but aren't easy, either. Thus, the town has much more work to do to make a final decision, but it needn't worry about equity. That's just a straw man meant by some to change the subject.

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