POLL: Should Red Bank start its own school district?
On the heels of Signal Mountain's announcement last week, Red Bank also plans to explore the feasibility of getting into the schools business.
Red Bank commissioners decided Tuesday to form a committee to investigate the viability of breaking away from Hamilton County Schools and creating a new school district.
In January, the commission plans to appoint a committee to research the idea and it hopes the group will work with Signal Mountain's committee.
"I can guarantee Signal Mountain will share their information with us as much as we share our information with them," said Red Bank Mayor John Roberts during the commission meeting Tuesday.
Each Red Bank commissioner should appoint at least one person to the committee, Roberts suggested.
Commissioner Eddie Pierce said the committees should include residents of Red Bank and people who may not live in the community but have a history with the schools.
"I see we have nothing to lose," Pierce said.
If the committee and elected officials think launching a new district is a good idea, voters are likely to take up the issue in a referendum. If a new school district is created, a superintendent would have to be hired and a school board formed to oversee the schools.
Schools within the county’s small municipalities
Collegedale: Wolftever Creek Elementary, Ooltewah Middle School
East Ridge: East Ridge Elementary, Spring Creek Elementary, East Ridge Middle School, East Ridge High School
Lookout Mountain: Lookout Mountain Elementary
Signal Mountain: Thrasher Elementary, Nolan Elementary, Signal Mountain Middle/High
Soddy-Daisy: Sequoyah, Soddy Elementary, Allen Elementary, Daisy Elementary, Soddy-Daisy Middle School, Soddy-Daisy High School
Red Bank: Alpine Crest Elementary, Red Bank Middle School, Red Bank High School, Dawn School
Lakesite, Ridgeside and Walden have no schools within their boundaries.
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.
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 bounds.
Kathy Lennon, who represents Red Bank and Signal Mountain on the Hamilton County school board, said she is not sure what the legalities are, if the municipalities choose to break away from the county school system.
Hamilton County Schools does not want its communities to leave the district, Lennon said Monday.
"Maybe we can all come to the table and see how we can work together," she added Monday.
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.
East Ridge and Soddy-Daisy are also considering forming committees to investigate forming separate school districts.
Supporters of the new school districts believe the move will grant residents greater control over student education and opportunities and provide increased autonomy to meet student needs. If municipalities decide to break away from the county school system, the new districts will receive state and county per-pupil allocations, meaning Hamilton County Schools would receive less funding because of a decrease in enrollment.
But if municipalities decide to move forward and form their own districts, the county is not likely to give up the school buildings without a fight.
Scott Bennett, Hamilton County Board of Education attorney, warned the town of Signal Mountain in an email Friday that if the mountain decides to start its own district, its school buildings could be sold to developers or repurposed for the county's school system.
Community members who want the municipalities to consider breaking away from the county school system believe precedent in Shelby County clears the way for them to take over the school buildings.
In 2014, six municipalities in Shelby County started their own districts, just three years after the overwhelmingly black Memphis school district merged with the primarily white Shelby County Schools. The establishment of those new districts caused a legal battle among the groups.
Several of the Shelby County municipalities ended up buying the school buildings from Shelby County Schools in a $10 quitclaim deed. In a legal settlement, the municipalities also paid Shelby County Schools millions of dollars that went to post-employment benefits for the county schools' retirees.
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 423-757-6592 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.