Hamilton County school board refocuses on schools, not scandals

Former Superintendent of Schools Rick Smith, center, sits in his place during a Hamilton County School Board meeting.
photo Superintendent of Schools Rick Smith, left, prepares to leave following a business as usual session Thursday evening at the Hamilton County School Board. Dr. Jonathan Welch is seen, at right.

Parent meetings regarding proposed school zoning changes:

Falling Water Elementary: Monday at 6 p.m.Loftis Middle School: Tuesday at 6 p.m.Alpine Crest Elementary: March 21 at 6 p.m.Calvin Donaldson Elementary: March 22 at 6 p.m.Barger Academy: March 24 at 6 p.m.*Source: Hamilton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade

Ooltewah officials booked

Ooltewah High School basketball coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley were booked into the Hamilton County Jail on Thursday.They are charged with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse to the proper authorities in connection with the alleged rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by three of his basketball teammates.Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw sent the charges to the grand jury last month, saying there was probable cause to believe the men failed to report the abuse that allegedly took place during the basketball team’s trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas.

It was business as usual for the first time in months at the Hamilton County Board of Education meeting Thursday night, with talk of budgets and school zones but not a word about Superintendent Rick Smith.

Just three days earlier a divided board voted 5-4 against buying out Smith's contract and spoke passionately about what they wanted to see as the district tries to get past the December rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman.

Since there were not enough votes Monday to either fire Smith over his handling of the rape scandal or to buy out his contract, he remains as the district's superintendent.

Several board members said Monday they wanted to look ahead, and move on from the turmoil of the past several months. And that's exactly what happened, with the board discussing next year's budget and zoning instead of interviewing interim superintendent candidates as previously planned.

As soon as the gavel struck Thursday announcing the start of the meeting, Christie Jordan, assistant superintendent of finance, gave a broad overview of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

"I want the board to understand the budget well enough to be able to answer any of the common questions you get, probably frequently," Jordan said. "I'm trying to make a 300-page budget into a format that is understandable."

She explained that 81 percent of the school system's general purpose operating budget goes to salaries and benefits for the district's 4,232 regular employees. Jordan added that 96 percent of those employees are in schools every day.

She also presented a breakdown of where each dollar is spent. She said 82 cents of every dollar goes to school-based personnel and materials, 4 cents goes to transportation, 10 cents goes to operations and maintenance and 4 cents goes to central office support and other administrative services.

Unlike the standing-room-only meetings of previous weeks, only a few members of the public sat in the audience Thursday night.

After the budget discussion, transportation director Ben Coulter reported on school zoning changes.

Coulter explained proposed zoning changes that will affect students in several areas and said parents should begin receiving letters in the next couple of days about them. He said community meetings will be held at affected schools.

School board member David Testerman said the growth in areas near downtown is exploding and will need to be addressed.

"We've got to convince people that we're going to need schools pretty fast," Testerman said. "We have several old schools that are about to fall apart, and several of them are in the inner city [where the growth is taking place.]"

Board member Rhonda Thurman asked the condition of mothballed Howard Middle School, which is connected to the Howard School.

Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade said that portion of the building has a new roof and could house about 400 students with approximately $2 million to $3 million in repairs.

Smith told the board looking at options like this and rezoning will be important in the years to come.

"This board and myself have heard for about a year or two that we need to be very diligent about utilizing existing space," Smith said. "And that is exactly what we're doing."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

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