Hamilton County Commission to vote next week on whether to increase school board districts

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley listens during a joint meeting on Oct. 26, 2021, with the Hamilton County Board of Education to discuss redistricting and how it affects schools.

The Hamilton County Commission next week will vote on whether to grow the school board to 11 members from the current nine as they go about adapting political boundaries using new 2020 census data.

Opposition to the proposal from school officials has already begun to roll in.

While the vote is scheduled for Wednesday, said Commission Chair Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, some commission members and school board members are seeking more time or outright rejecting the idea of increasing the number of districts to match the 11-district map the county commission approved for itself earlier this month.

"That's the way we had it before redistricting," Smedley said, adding that it's customary to have the same number of districts and the same district lines for the commission and school board. "It didn't seem like there was a lot of opposition to it."

Some on the other side of the political spectrum agreed. Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, said it was also his understanding that the districts have mirrored each other for decades.

(READ MORE: How did Hamilton County redistricting change the political map?)

If the new school district map will continue the trend of corresponding to the commission map, the new District 10 would sprawl along the eastern border of the county, including Collegedale and Georgetown. It would also include the areas surrounding Ooltewah's elementary, middle and high schools.

The new District 11 would sit in the southwestern corner of the county. It would include Lookout Valley and Lookout Mountain. Further east, it would also include the area surrounding Chattanooga's Asbury Park Street.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Board of Education, Commission discuss pros and cons of redistricting plans)

In a Wednesday statement, Hamilton County Board of Education chair Tucker McClendon of East Ridge and vice chair Tiffanie Robinson of Chattanooga alleged that they had been blindsided by the commission including the matter on next week's agenda.

McClendon and Robinson asked the commission to defer "any redistricting of the Hamilton County Board of Education until after the Board of Education has had the opportunity to discuss this issue in-depth and, perhaps, to formulate its own proposed redistricting map to reflect the needs of the school system's stakeholders."

During an Oct. 26 joint meeting with the county commission, school board members offered several opinions.

Board member James Walker of Birchwood supported the 11-district map, citing clarity for voters if the commission and school board have the same district boundaries.

"My vote is, it makes all the sense in the world," he said, "because for election purposes and all of those things."

Meanwhile, McClendon said that while he was "kind of" settled on a nine-district map, he was still on the fence.

"I could be swayed to the 11, but we're in the middle of a superintendent search and we're just now looking at candidates, and these candidates are coming in thinking they're going to work for nine," McClendon said. "I'm a little worried what that's going to do to our candidate pool."

Board member Rhonda Thurman of Hixson said, "I kind of like doing the nine."

Brought to you by gis.hamiltontn.gov/

Some Democratic commissioners seemed open to the idea of more communication before coming to a decision. Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside, referenced the joint meeting and the concerns of some school board members.

"I think it was made very clear at that meeting that those present had strong opposition as far as increasing the number of their school board," Geter said. "So I just ask us to really listen to our fellow school board members and really engage with them and get their input into this decision."

Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Chattanooga, also said he'd like to know more about what the school board members think of the new district proposal.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Board of Education approves new teacher code of conduct policy)

If an 11-district map were to be adopted - and it mirrored the commission's map - some of the most impacted districts would include District 2 and District 9, which are represented by school board members Marco Perez of Signal Mountain and Walker.

Perez's new district would move further north to include Northwoods and Flat Top Mountain. At the very northern tip of the district, communities along Highway 111 near Heiss Mountain Road, Reed Lane and Jones Gap Road would also be included in the new district.

He would lose a portion of northern Chattanooga, which houses communities near Route 27. He would also lose voters who live around McCahill Road, Oakland Terrace and Martin Road. Those areas will move to the new District 6.

Walker's district would be split along Snow Hill Road and Highway 58 in the new map, moving the portion of the district east of Highway 58 into District 10 and leaving a significant chunk carved out of the current district.

Any new district maps require approval by the state.

Contact Logan Hullinger by phone at 814-319-5158 or via email at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.