A woman in the audience shouted "No!" Thursday night, a punctuation that spiked above the groans of a crowd at the Chattooga County Board of Education meeting. The elected body's three newest members had been in their seats for half an hour, and their first action swiftly stirred disloyalty among some school employees.
After a brief swearing-in ceremony, the board voted 4-1 to return the district's calendar to a traditional, five-days-a-week schedule, beginning this August. Since 2010, Chattooga County Schools have taken Mondays off and extended the length of the other four days.
Administrators argue the schedule saves the district money. They don't have to pay bus drivers or cafeteria workers as much, and electricity bills are lower. No longer. The three newest members of the board — Republicans Sam Ballard, Brad Hayes and Julia Houston — said they need to once again fill the classrooms on Mondays. They cited the district's test scores, some of the lowest in northwest Georgia. (The district also has some of the poorest students, with 81 percent receiving free or reduced lunches.)
Many in the crowd booed the quick decision.
"All of y'all here basically are teachers and don't want to do anything different," Ballard said to a hum of groans. "It's a hardship. Eight or nine years ago the school board voted to switch to four days. Nobody was concerned about hardships. They just changed. They made a judgment call and they did it. And that's what we're doing today. We're making the judgment call."
In addition to the three new elected officials, board member John Agnew voted to return to the five-day-a-week schedule. John Turner was the lone holdout. He said returning to Monday classes will create bad morale among the staff, which will create a toxic environment for the students.
He went further, though. Turner argued the Chattooga County Board of Education's vote was counterintuitive, running against the grain of the course of all of human civilization.
"You will see within the next two years such an advancement in bringing artificial intelligence into our culture, it will probably make your head swim," he said. "With this in mind, we are probably ahead of the curve on the four-day week."
After the meeting, Superintendent Jimmy Lenderman told the Times Free Press he didn't want to comment on the vote. A retired marine, he said he would play the part of the good soldier. Honor the commands of his superiors. Avoid public criticism. But even in his no comment, he couldn't help but to betray his disappointment.
"I'm a loyal person," he said. "I have two choices. I can quit, or I can implement the choices that the board passes. I have chosen that at this time. Now, I may change my choice later."
Lenderman has historically been like a missionary for his district's schedule. Two years after the board's vote to ax Monday classes, he told the Times Free Press in 2012 that the new calendar rejuvenated education here. The district saved $800,000 a year. Teachers missed fewer days, always knowing a three-day weekend was looming. Recruiting new staff was easier. Even students, drunk on immaturity, seemed to act out in classes less.
"Best thing in the world," Lenderman told the Times Free Press seven years ago.
But some of the board members argued during their campaigns last year that this schedule didn't cut it. Student outcomes simply weren't high enough.
"Our bottom line has to be what's in the best interests of students," Houston said.
"It's been hard to learn everything in four days," Agnew said.
Despite the clear disagreement of some people in the audience, Lenderman told the visitors they couldn't speak Thursday. The district's public comment policy requires potential speakers to sign up in advance.
The board meets the third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at 206 Penn St. in Summerville. The next meeting will be on Feb. 21.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.