Four things to watch at Thursday's Hamilton County school board meeting

Four things to watch at Thursday's Hamilton County school board meeting

February 20th, 2019 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

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The Hamilton County Board of Education meets at 5 p.m. for an executive session and then 5:30 p.m. for its regular public meeting on Thursday in the boardroom at 3074 Hickory Valley Road.

Six Hamilton County school board members met for an agenda session Monday, one of the board's new initiatives in 2019 spearheaded by Superintendent Bryan Johnson to ensure its members are prepared for their once-a-month meetings.

The work session was packed with information about the district's efforts to change zone lines for Ooltewah and Snow Hill elementary schools and efforts to expand the reach of Hamilton County High's support programs, but there was little discussion among board members about other items on their packed agenda.

Here are four things to pay attention to on Thursday's agenda.


1. Potential for parents to track buses in real time

Though a recommendation for an updated transportation contract is not ready to review — despite hopes last December that a new contract would be ready for discussion by January — transportation will be a topic of conversation this month.

David Eaves, transportation supervisor for the district, is requesting funding for new bus tracking and monitoring software. TransFinder allows school districts to map its routes, something board members have said it desperately needs to review, and includes a tool that uses GPS to show bus locations in real time. All users, even parents, would be able to track their students' routes in real time.

"The need for updated technology is long overdue," Eaves said in a memo to the board. "Time is of the essence in the purchase of this system as we must begin designing bus routes now that will more adequately accommodate the changing transportation needs of the District."

The district is also reviewing two bids to its request for proposal released in December for its $14 million to $16 million bus budget. The bid period closed with two responses — one from the district's current contractor, Durham School Services, and one from First Student Inc.


2. Updates to employee leave, drug-testing policies

Among the 43 policy revisions up for a first reading Thursday are several policies regarding personnel and how teachers and staff are evaluated, drug tested, supervised and suspended.

Now, only Hamilton County Schools employees who are designated "safety sensitive employees" are prohibited from using illicit drugs and could be drug tested. School board members and district staff discussed the potential for expanding the net around which employees could be drug tested at a meeting in January.

A revision to the district's policy includes the addition of more specific language regarding drug and alcohol use by employees, prohibiting them "from consuming alcohol and/or illegal drugs prior to school events, before work, or after a return to work from authorized breaks or lunch."

The policy will undergo a second reading and final vote in March, but the school board is still able to amend any policy between first and second readings.


3. Vote on proposed school zone changes

The board is expected to adopt new attendance zones for Ooltewah and Snow Hill elementary schools. The redistricting, which will take effect for the 2019-20 school year, is made possible by Snow Hill renovations that add capacity to the school.

School district officials have held two community meetings with the families of the approximately 150 students who will be affected by the change this month.

District 9 board member Steve Highlander, who represents the schools, said Monday that "it seemed the plan had been well-received."

"If there was a lot of flak, I'd be catching it," Highlander said.

Chairman Joe Wingate agreed and added that turnout at the community meetings was great. The redistricting will shorten the length of time some children spend on school buses, and it will balance utilization of each school to about 80 percent, which is the optimal amount, officials said.


4. A $145,000 donation from JP Morgan Chase

Last month, Hamilton County Schools received $145,000 from JP Morgan Chase for further investment in the district's nearly two dozen Future Ready Institutes.

JP Morgan Chase is one of the initiative's founding partners and originally funded half of Future Ready Institutes director Blake Freeman's salary.

This week, the board will allocate the majority of those funds to three schools, Brainerd High School, Lookout Valley Elementary School and Lookout Valley Middle School, for equipment, curriculum resources and funds, teacher stipends, student travel and scholarships.

The district is still looking for partners for many of the institutes embedded in traditional high schools — only four of the current 25 institutes have branded partners, such as the Erlanger Institute of Health Care and Innovation at The Howard School or the EPB Institute of Technology and Networking at Tyner Academy.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.