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IF YOU GO

The Hamilton County school board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the board room at the Hamilton County Department of Education at 3074 Hickory Valley Road. Meetings are open to the public and live-streamed online via the school district’s Facebook page.

The Hamilton County school board has no shortage of things to discuss and debate on Thursday's agenda.

One school board member, Joe Smith, of District 3, even joked during Monday night's agenda session that the board "is going to be here a while Thursday."

 

 

Here are four things that are sure to come up:

1. Student behavior will remain a focus.

After a heated, emotional discussion during a discipline committee meeting Monday, board members will more than likely continue discussing student behavior and the board's new Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline.

Board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, is the point person on the board for the discipline committee. She called a special meeting after weeks of speculation from some school board members and teachers about what was happening behind closed doors in local classrooms.

"As chairman of the Discipline Committee, I asked the administration to tighten up discipline, especially violence, disrespect and language used against teachers. The new code was compiled to ensure that all students were being held to the same standard in each school," Thurman previously told the Times Free Press.

But not all discussion will be focused on bad news. Two schools — Clifton Hills Elementary and The Howard School — will be recognized Thursday morning by the Tennessee Department of Education and the University of Tennessee's Tennessee Behavior Supports Project for positive behavior support programs the schools have implemented and the impact they've had on the student bodies.

 

2. The board will establish how it will comply with a Tennessee law to test school drinking water for lead.

One board policy among many that is up for a vote Thursday will establish how Hamilton County Schools will comply with a new Tennessee law that went into effect in January, requiring school districts to "develop a policy to test drinking water sources in schools for lead," according to the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Chief of Staff Nakia Towns Edwards said Monday that Justin Witt, director of facilities for the district, researched various policies to find one that the district "could commit to."

Earlier this year, more than two dozen water sources in neighboring Bradley County Schools tested positive, or above state-accepted levels, for lead.

Hamilton County's new policy establishes that the district will test all buildings built before 1998 every two years and continue testing to ensure that drinking water contains a lead level of less than 15 parts per billion — the safest level as recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The policy will also establish how families are notified of unsafe levels of lead in their child's school drinking water.

Document

Draft of new policy for lead testing of drinking water

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3. Potential discussion of public education funding in Hamilton County.

On Thursday, the Hamilton County Commission denied a resolution that could have allowed Hamilton County residents to decide if the school district should receive more funding for teacher pay or other services.

A resolution introduced by County Commissioner David Sharpe, of District 6, would have placed a $60 wheel tax as a voter referendum on the March 2020 ballot, but it was shot down by the majority of the commission.

Debate over funding for public education has been a constant topic in Hamilton County since Superintendent Bryan Johnson asked for an additional $34 million in his original fiscal year 2020 budget request, which was ultimately shot down by the commission in June.

Some commissioners have accused the district of not using funds effectively and of adding too many positions, while others have argued that the majority of Hamilton County residents want to improve local schools.

 

4. Renewed debate over the district's more than $600,000 annual stormwater fees.

Local officials have long debated whether Hamilton County Schools should pay the city's stormwater fees.

For years, Chattanooga had not charged schools, so when the city started billing Hamilton County Schools in 2013, it was viewed as retaliation for a debate about the millions of dollars the city owed the school district in delinquent liquor-by-the-drink taxes.

In 2017, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, argued that it was counterproductive for Tennessee's public education funding to be spent paying city stormwater bills.

School board members brought the issue up again at Monday night's agenda session.

"Have we ever had any conversation with the city about possibly waving some of the taxes on stormwater," Smith asked Monday.

The district's Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg and school board attorney Scott Bennett both weighed in.

Goldberg said it was his understanding that it was illegal for the city to waive such fees and such a change would need to be weighed at the state level.

Board member Steve Highlander, of District 9, chimed in and said the fees were "exorbitant" and the district shouldn't pay them.

"We were foolish to ever agree to pay it," Highlander said.

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

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