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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Hamilton County Schools board member Rhonda Thurman asks for more clarification on an item as the board goes over and updates policies during a school board meeting July 11, 2019, at the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Just days after Superintendent Bryan Johnson and four school board members attended a town hall about teacher pay and funding public education, it's back to business for the Hamilton County Board of Education.

The school board will meet for its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Here are four things to be on the lookout for this week.

 

1. Nov. 21 is the three-year anniversary of the Woodmore bus crash.

Board members will begin Thursday's meeting by honoring the anniversary of a fatal bus crash on Nov. 21, 2016, that killed six Woodmore Elementary School children.

Zyaira Mateen, 6; D'Myunn Brown, 6; Zyanna Harris, 10; Cor'Dayja Jones, 9; Zoie Nash, 9; and Keonte Wilson, 8, were killed in the crash and dozens more were injured when the bus veered off Talley Road in Brainerd and collided with a utility pole, overturning and crashing into a tree.

The crash led to dozens of lawsuits and a criminal case against the bus driver, 25-year-old Johnthony Walker, who was found guilty in 2018 of six counts of criminally negligent homicide, 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault and seven counts of assault.

The crash shaped the district's policies on school bus safety and ultimately led to the district parting ways with transportation vendor Durham School Services.

 

2. Consolidation of more than 300 copier contracts.

Hamilton County Schools now has more than 300 copiers across the district's 78 schools and in the central office. Schools spend in total about $730,000 a year on these leases, and many negotiate their own contracts with one of the four vendors the district uses.

IF YOU GO

The Hamilton County Board of Education will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, for its regular monthly meeting. The meeting will be held in the board room at the district’s central office at 3074 Hickory Valley Road.

Brent Goldberg, chief business officer for the district, is proposing to consolidate those contacts, as well as the $220,000 spent at the central office, into one contract with one vendor, Beeler.

The vendor already has about 84% of the contracts, and Goldberg told the school board at its agenda session Monday that a consolidated contract could save the district up to $150,000 a year.

 

3. Potential security upgrades at schools.

Board member Tucker McClendon, of District 8, has asked Johnson and his staff to consider hiring private security officers for schools, especially those without school resource officers.

Currently, there are 31 SROs at 31 schools in the district, mostly at middle and high schools, but there are also 9 vacancies, according to district spokesman Tim Hensley. Even if all 40 positions were filled, that would cover only about half of the county's schools.

McClendon said that after a presentation at last week's Tennessee School Board Association conference "it became very clear to [him] that we aren't doing enough to keep our schools safe."

 

4. Concerns from parents and teachers about half days.

School board members Rhonda Thurman, of District 1; Kathy Lennon, of District 2; and Tiffanie Robinson, of District 4, all expressed some concerns about the district's Nov. 13 half day for students.

Thurman said a half day on a Wednesday creates a burden for parents and families and the board should be more mindful and take that into consideration when planning calendars in the future.

Johnson pointed out that the day was meant to provide planning time for teachers, something he and his staff had heard was a concern during last week's listening sessions with teachers. He did note that teachers at seven schools had problems with their planning time being used by administrators for meetings and teacher trainings and said his staff spoke to school leaders to address the issue.

It is unclear if the board will need to implement policies to ensure half days are used for certain purposes or if it will change when half days are scheduled in the future.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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