The Chattanooga City Council, for the most part, has backed a public stance on giving Hamilton County Schools some time to create a turnaround plan for five struggling schools sitting on the brink of state intervention.
The request "encourages" the Tennessee Department of Education to give new schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson additional time to engage the community so he can base its input on a plan to "create a path forward that is in the best interest of our children and community."
The measure, sponsored by Councilman Russell Gilbert, aligns itself closely with recent Hamilton County Board of Education conversations on the matter and backs away from his original call for the state to "slow it down" and give the school system two more years to get things right for Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle, Woodmore Elementary, Dalewood Middle and Brainerd High.
In recent months, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has recommended Hamilton County Schools and the state partner to create a special mini-district for those schools, as opposed to an outright state takeover. The five schools have ranked among the state's lowest performers for more than a decade.
On Tuesday, the council voted 6-0 in favor of the measure, with three members abstaining: council Chairman Jerry Mitchell, Vice Chairman Ken Smith and Councilman Chip Henderson.
"Based off the meeting they [the school board] had last Thursday, we did change some of the [resolution's] language to fit their goals," Gilbert said.
Last week, Gilbert deferred the vote to give the school board time to discuss the issue with Johnson first. He has said his stance was not about politics, but about "my babies."
"I'm not sure we need to be in this business," Mitchell said, after voicing support for Johnson and school board members. "In fact, I'm pretty sure we don't need to be in this business."
The council also announced it soon would jump into the fiscal 2018 budget review process, officially receiving Mayor Andy Berke's budget on Aug. 1.
In a recent email, city spokeswoman Marissa Bell said the mayor's office has not yet determined whether it will make any changes to the property tax rate.
Smith and Berke both announced plans to hold a meeting at the North River Civic Center today to discuss the possibility of Chattanooga adopting the state's senior tax freeze program, which launched about 10 years ago.
The program assists seniors who meet certain income qualifications.
In other business, the council again faced DuPont area residents who have been voicing opposition to plans to build a 50-foot-tall wet-weather sewage storage tank near the Fairfax Heights and Bagwell City neighborhoods. The proposed tank, able to hold 7.5 million gallons of sewage, forms part of the city's program to combat wastewater overflows in the neighborhoods.
Community members have repeatedly spoken at council meetings and took to protesting on the sidewalks outside of city hall this week. They want the tank built on the other side of DuPont Parkway, closer to McKamey Animal Center.
"Please hear our cries for help," resident Drake Boscaino said. "We will not stop fighting and will keep this in the public spotlight until you listen to us, your voters. That is a promise."
Before the meeting, Mitchell — who represents the communities — said the city has opened a dialog with him and community representatives on the issue.
"We are looking at alternative solutions," Mitchell said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.