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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Schools superintendent Justin Robertson speaks during a Hamilton County School Board meeting on Thursday, March 17, 2022.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Justin Robertson told county leaders Wednesday to anticipate discussions in the near future about school safety.

"I'm having conversations with municipalities across Hamilton County in the coming days to ensure that they are supportive in some way, whether that's resources for patrols or helping us do walk-throughs," Robertson told county commissioners during a meeting Wednesday. "We're going to need to start having this conversation again."

His remarks came during a conversation about the county budget. Robertson said after the meeting that the district's goal is to have a security presence at all of its schools.

"At this time, we are engaging in dialogue with all relevant agencies across the county to determine what resources are available," he said. "Once we complete that process, we will work with our board and County Commission on filling that need."

This would be in addition to the dialogue county leaders need to have about school maintenance requirements.

"There are a lot of things that we continue to kick down the road that are causing us big problems," Robertson told county commissioners Wednesday. "There are several millions of dollars in HVAC upgrades, there are roofs, there are playgrounds that are unsafe and unfit for kids to play on. I just want to take this opportunity to raise that concern that at some point we have to start having a real conversation about what we do with our facilities in Hamilton County."

In early May, the Board of Education tabled a motion to request $10 million in recurring maintenance revenue from the County Commission, which would have helped address $1 billion in deferred capital needs.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, D-Ridgeside, attended a roundtable discussion with students at Brainerd High School to hear what they had to say about recent shootings in the city.

Geter said Wednesday the meeting was profound, and most of the students reported being personally affected by gun violence or knew someone who had.

"I'm glad to hear that under your leadership you're taking this to heart and seriously," Geter told Robertson on Wednesday.

She also urged leaders to prioritize resources for conflict resolution and trauma counseling as they discuss school safety.

"There's trauma," she said. "They've got to get that out of them, and if they're spending X amount of hours in school, they need that there. They also need that in the community."

Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, said the panel will hear a presentation next week from a local organization that focuses on conflict resolution and restorative practices. He also applauded existing safety measures such as cameras, locks and safe entry points that Hamilton County Schools has been investing in for years.

After 2 a.m. Sunday, three people were killed and 14 injured in a shooting on McCallie Avenue. Two died from gunshots and another was hit by a vehicle while fleeing the gunfire. Police have declined to release the names of any of the victims but said one was a 16-year-old boy.

Police Chief Celeste Murphy said during a Chattanooga City Council meeting Tuesday that a city camera near the incident was malfunctioning at the time of the shooting, but she added it is not stalling the investigation.

Department spokesman Jeremy Eames said by email Wednesday that investigators with the Real Time Intelligence Center caught and noted issues with the camera during an inspection May 21. It is now in the process of being repaired.

"There are malfunctions from time to time, and the process to have that taken care of was followed as normal," Eames said. "The timing for this camera to be down is unfortunate due to the shooting incident. But it's not necessarily out of the ordinary."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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