The high school stadium drama is over. The Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday night to pay $913,600 to repair seven stadiums across the county.
The debate about crumbling stadiums began last fall when East Ridge High School's stadium was condemned. Soon after, it was announced that Tyner Academy and The Howard School also had bleachers needing to be razed, and four other high school stadiums required more minor repairs.
The board unanimously decided Thursday to use a part of its fund balance to pay for new bleachers at those three schools, and also repair stadiums at Hixson, Ooltewah, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Lookout Valley high schools.
School board member Steve Highlander stressed that funding stadiums does not make sports a priority over academics.
"But because of safety and liability issues, I think we need to do something about [the stadiums,]" he said.
School board member David Testerman, who represents East Ridge, brought the motion before the board to replace or repair all seven stadiums. He also proposed in a separate motion that the board ask the Hamilton County Commission to foot half the bill.
Rhonda Thurman reminded her fellow board members how the commission previously criticized them for not spending money out of the fund balance, and she suggested the school system pay for the repairs itself.
"If we have the money, why don't we just go ahead and pay for it?" Thurman asked.
Several school board members agreed.
Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who was present at the meeting, said afterward he is thankful for the school board's decision.
"I trust this action by the school board will help demonstrate to the commission [that] the school board is serious about maintaining our school facilities and this will open up further discussions with the commission concerning the physical needs of our schools," he said.
During the stadium discussion, school board member Greg Martin proposed $300,000 be given to each high school in the district to use on repairs of their choosing. School board members George Ricks and Joe Galloway voiced support.
School board Chairman Jonathan Welch diverted that conversation from a likely vote.
"Let's slow down a little bit," he said. "This has turned into a shotgun spending spree."
He cautioned the board that before spending millions of dollars on maintenance that it pays attentions to needs inside the classroom, like increasing block grants to help offset the amount teachers pay out of pocket on needed supplies.
The school board also voted Thursday night to approve the pay for Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly, who was approved to fill the interim position last month. According to the contract, Kelly will be making nearly $160,000 annually, plus benefits.
Thurman and Martin voted against the contract.
Two new school board policies were also replaced by new ones Thursday without discussion.
The school board voted unanimously to approve new child abuse and field trip policies, which are both much more detailed than the ones they replace.
Conversation about overhauling the previous policies started in January after an Ooltewah High School student was allegedly raped by three of his basketball teammates while on a team trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas.
At the time of the trip, the school board's policy was just two paragraphs and without specific guidelines. The new three-page policy is much more thorough and clearly outlines procedures for field trip approval, chaperone requirements, and what to do in case of an accident.
Similarly, the new child abuse policy is more in-depth than the previous policy and clearly states that all school employees are obligated to report child abuse or suspected child abuse, and it instructs them how.
The new policy also states that school administrators are required to circulate the policy to their staff and train employees on how to follow the policy and Tennessee law.
On Wednesday, Ooltewah High School basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery was indicted for failing to report child abuse in connection with the December incident in Gatlinburg.
Charges against Ooltewah High School volunteer-assistant coach Karl Williams are pending before the Hamilton County Grand Jury, and in a preliminary court hearing he testified how he was never trained by the school how to properly report child abuse.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at 423-757-6592 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.