Questions arise about impact on schools from Hamilton County redistricting

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / The County Commission assembly room at the Hamilton County Courthouse is seen on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

As Hamilton County moves forward with a redistricting process for county commission districts, questions are arising from commissioners and members of the public about how the school board will be affected by the new boundaries.

The commission has nine districts, which must be redrawn every 10 years using census data. Commissioners have discussed expanding to 11 districts, to keep each district small enough to allow for good representation.

What's yet to be determined is how that would affect the school board, which like the commission has nine districts.

Commissioner Greg Martin, R-Hixson, suggested Wednesday to move forward with the 11-district map, adding a resolution to the commission's agenda for Oct. 20 with a vote set for Oct. 27. He said commissioners could continue holding community meetings in the meantime.

Commission Chair Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, asked Commissioner Steve Highlander, also R-Ooltewah, to coordinate a joint meeting with the school board, and Martin said the commission and school board are having two different conversations.

"I'm not in a hurry, Madam Chairman, to have this meeting with Dr. Highlander of getting the school board and the commission together because what we're doing is different than what they may be doing," Martin said.

The proposed new map would separate some feeder schools from their connected middle and high schools, a point brought up by Highlander and Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside.

Geter said feeder school Bess T. Shepherd Elementary would be separated from Tyner Middle Academy and Tyner Academy, according to the map.

"All of our schools, especially the high schools, they all have feeder schools, and so when we're looking at this process of redistricting, it really matters in terms of how we do redistrict in terms of those schools and the feeder schools that play a role in them," Geter said.

Bess T. Shepherd would be withing the boundaries of the newly drawn District 10 in the proposed map, while Tyner Middle and Tyner Academy would be in District 5, represented by Geter. She was the only commissioner present who disagreed with moving forward with the 11-district map and the vote in two weeks.

Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-Chattanooga, said he agreed with Martin and thought the map was the best one the county showed the commission.

Upcoming redistricting community meetings

— Oct. 15: District 4 virtual community meeting from 6-7 p.m.— Oct. 18: District 5 virtual community meeting at 6 p.m.— Oct. 18: District 9 community meeting - 7 p.m. at Harrison Ruritan— Oct. 19: District 6 community meeting - 6 p.m. at 1089 Bailey Ave.Sources: Commissioner Steve Highlander and commissioner social media pages

"Just from my own experience, my current district has three schools that don't have feeder schools in my district, they feed to schools outside my district," Boyd said. "It has never come up with my board member or any constituents in the past 10 years that that was an issue."

During public comment, former school board member Kathy Lennon said she was concerned by the separation of Red Bank Elementary School, which would be in District 2, from Red Bank Middle School and Red Bank High School in District 6.

Lennon also compared the quantity of schools across districts, with District 11 containing 12 schools and District 9 containing four.

"As a former school board member I always felt like we kind of worked together with our county commissioners and any time things came up, we did have joint meetings so Dr. Highlander, I think it's a great idea that you do meet with school board members because I think it's very important," Lennon said.

Highlander, a former school board member, told the Times Free Press Thursday that he is working with the school board and county attorneys to determine which of two education laws dictates how school board districts are established. One states that school board districts should mirror county districts, while the other states that the county commission determines school board districts.

He said he has been in contact with school board Chair Tucker McClendon and that they will meet once they determine which law prevails.

"He and I agreed to meet, and we're looking at some times to do it, we've not set it up yet," Highlander said. "We do want to find out exactly what the law says about it first."

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at or 423-757-6592.