Greeson: HCDE moving forward and a preemptive strike against discretionary funds

Jay Greeson

The Hamilton County Board of Education met on Thursday night and chatted.

Budgets and zoning. Buses and facilities. Your normal fare at school board meetings around the country.

And in our school community, normal is a welcome change of pace.

But are we ready to be normal? In some ways, yes.

In other ways, we're not close. That the school board hoped to turn the page on the same day three adults connected to the Ooltewah High School athletic department were booked on charges of failure to report child abuse in the hours after a 15-year-old freshman basketball player was allegedly raped with a pool cue screams to that.

But bemoaning that disaster does not change the fact our school system must move forward. Moving forward, however, does not mean forgetting.

Remember, the main perpetrator in the Ooltewah case reportedly told the detective the same thing happened to him when he was a freshman, and the hazers-turned-sexual assailants told the victims they would be doing the same thing in four years.

That working indifference to the culture at Ooltewah allowed for the most heinous of acts. On a bigger scale and scope, if we indirectly embrace a similar working indifference to the multitude of mistakes we have learned about since Christmas, then we all are at fault.

Yes, there's a ton of blame to be shared. In homes, in schools, the leadership at Bonny Oaks, our elected school board members, you name it. Mistakes this horrific do not fall solely at the feet of the sinners.

So, yes, the school board must go forward, and the members need our help. Now more than ever.

Look for ways to volunteer. Look for ways to help your child and as many others in our community.

The companies who are quick to back the new education initiatives of Chattanooga 2.0 offer your employees a once-a-month chance to spend a workday volunteering at a Hamilton County public school.

Everything helps. Well, everything other than indifference.

After all, our youth is our future.

So let's move forward to hopefully better days.

But, as we take steps forward, we should never stop questioning how those in charge are going to make this better.

Righting the record

It's safe to say most people who read this column know how I feel about the decision not to make a change atop the leadership of the school system.

In fact, Monday's vote not to buy out Rick Smith still confuses a lot of us.

That said, I owe Greg Martin a mea culpa. I included him in the group of the Flimsy Five - the five school board members who voted not to buy out Smith. After that vote, Martin made a motion to fire Smith, a motion that did not receive a second.

That's anything but flimsy, and Martin deserved better.

So there's that.

Another hot-button topic

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger was at the Times Free Press this week to talk about a number of topics.

The school board and its current mess came up. As did VW and local business. So did the county budget.

The budgetary process really never stops, but the next six weeks or so will be filled with proposals and submissions as Coppinger and his team try to get their hands and heads around the more than $656 million that comprises this year's budget.

To his credit - and Coppinger, in my mind, deserves a great deal of it - the county mayor is again going to try to do the proper and fiscally conservative thing by taking away the $100,000 discretionary spending accounts of our nine county commissioners.

You remember last year when six commissioners slid the six-figure, voter-pleasing slush funds back into the budget at the 11th hour? Well, Coppinger said Thursday he just doesn't like the concept of "discretionary" funds, even while acknowledging that when he was a commissioner, he had access to and spent some of that money. The difference between then and now?

"We had the money for it," he told reporters and editors.

"It's hard not to think that if it was the right thing to do, everyone would be doing it," Coppinger said, referring to the fact that next-to-no-other county government has a set-up like this.

Cue the excuses and the "helps a great cause" from the commissioners, because they will certainly come.

We all know what those funds are, and we should all back Coppinger as he tries to keep the money in the general fund.

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6273 or

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