Red Bank forms committee to investigate launching separate school district

Red Bank Mayor John Roberts

Red Bank is joining Signal Mountain and investigating the feasibility of breaking away from the Hamilton County Schools system.

The Red Bank City Commission selected a five-member committee Tuesday night to conduct what members anticipate will be about a year of research.

"It doesn't hurt to look at it," said Red Bank Mayor John Roberts.

Each commissioner named someone to the committee, after deciding that its members do not need to live within the Red Bank city limits.

"It's not like we are going out here to Memphis to find somebody," Roberts said, adding that the members of the committee are all well-known and respected in Red Bank.

Roberts appointed Kathy Schein, a real estate agent, small business owner and member of the Red Bank Chamber of Commerce to the panel. Red Bank Vice Mayor Eddie Pierce selected Johnny Pierce, a former principal at Red Bank Middle School. Commissioner Ed LeCompte chose Red Bank High School teacher Jamie Kerns. Commissioner Terry Pope named Allen Turner, who works at the Southeast Tennessee Development District. And Commissioner Carol Rose appointed retired Hamilton County teacher Linda Sparks.

The commissioners agreed that a diversity of perspectives and experiences is represented on the committee, noting that the group can consult with advisers and ask experts for help as it looks into the feasibility of creating a separate school system.

Rose told the commission that she wants each member of the committee to be given clear expectations before they begin working in coming weeks.

"What I was looking for is that they submit a progress report to the city manager or he can request a report any time he wants to," Rose said. She added that it would be good to receive a formal report from the committee each quarter.

No one at the meeting Tuesday night voiced opposition to establishing the committee.

Red Bank began publicly discussing the idea of launching its own school district late last year. Signal Mountain named a committee to look into the same thing last week and is scheduled to vote and make it official Monday night. Roberts previously told the commission he is confident the two committees can share information and research.

East Ridge and Soddy-Daisy also are considering looking into the idea, but the elected bodies have not publicly discussed it yet.

Seven of Hamilton County's 10 municipalities have schools within their limits, and 20 of the district's 76 schools are within the six small municipalities. Chattanooga has more than 40 public schools, and the unincorporated parts of the county have about a dozen schools.

Alpine Crest Elementary, Red Bank Middle School, Red Bank High School and the Dawn School are in the city of Red Bank. Red Bank Elementary is just outside the municipality's boundaries.

If municipalities decide to form school districts, the schools will receive state and county per-pupil allocations, meaning Hamilton County Schools would receive less money because of a decrease in enrollment, according to the state. Hamilton County would be the second-largest Tennessee school system to lose schools to municipalities, as several wealthy municipalities broke away from Shelby County Schools after its merger with the predominantly black city school system.

If any municipalities here launched new school districts, they would have to hire a superintendent and establish a school board, and the county is not likely to give up the school buildings without a fight. Teachers at the schools could be rehired by the new district, and state law mandates their salaries be held harmless, meaning they receive at least the same level of pay as they did working in Hamilton County Schools.

Supporters of starting municipal school districts believe the move will grant residents greater control over student education and opportunities and provide increased autonomy to meet student needs. Critics claim it's an elitist move and that there are many unforeseen obstacles and costs.

Chattanooga City Schools and Hamilton County Schools merged in 1997 after city voters decided to get out of the school business.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at [email protected] or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.