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Members of the Hamilton County School Board chat prior to the start of their meeting on Monday, Mar. 7, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
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Jay Greeson

They gathered at the Hamilton County school board meeting Monday night, looking for the next step.

They were desperate for it.

And they — we — got nothing. We got politics and people squabbling about being right rather than finding the right path forward.

Rick Smith, the besieged superintendent, was in the board's crosshairs Monday. It was a meeting designed to redirect the now and repurpose the future.

And the school board did nothing. Nothing with all capital letters and a few sprinkles on top.

They refused to move forward because they didn't want to spend $270,000.

Are you kidding? A quarter of a million dollars in a school budget that goes north of $400 million is peanuts. It's individual pencil shavings from a crater of pencils. It's a speck of glitter out of a 55-gallon drum. It's cutting off the pinkie toe of a 400-pound man.

To make matters worse, the quotes and the spin Monday night were nauseating.

After several board members spoke about how an overwhelming majority of their constituents wanted change but seemed unsure about a buyout, the board sacrificed the baby for the bath water. It was politics on a grand scale at the sacrifice for the future of our public schools.

And then several members of the board tried to turn the narrative into a momentum-moving stump session that sounded like a halftime speech from a coach whose team is trailing 72-0.

"I don't see no wrong, just things that can be done better," board member George Ricks said of the relationship with Smith moving forward.

Ricks also said this is the best school board he's been on, which is not a ringing endorsement of the previous school boards by any means.

Board member David Testerman talked about surveys. Great idea. We have kids getting raped on unauthorized school trips, which is nothing a good survey won't fix.

There was talk of a "come to Jesus" meeting between Smith and Rhonda Thurman, who believes the value of the talking point of taxpayers' pennies is worth squandering tens of millions of dollars in inactivity and lack of success. Thurman even mentioned that firing Smith would have cost the taxpayers a lot of money. (Pssssttttt, Rhonda, buying him would have been WAY cheaper and leaving Smith in his current job will cost the taxpayers even more.)

Smith has made it clear he was happy to leave for a percentage of his contract — a contract agreed to by this school board, mind you — and let the system hit the reset button. And if anyone anywhere needed a reset button, it's our public school system.

Now, the board is asking him to continue running a school system that has already hit the iceberg and is taking on water.

It has become an unmitigated disaster. Test scores are dreadful. Morale is minuscule. Student safety — the lowest common denominator of the school system's responsibility — is in question.

So our elected school leaders met Monday with a three-pronged question before them, and they chose the path of least wisdom.

They bickered and balked. They talked about peanuts by comparisons when the elephants in our system continue to go unaddressed. They used phrases like "getting on the same page" and rolling up their sleeves and "getting to work."

For Pete's sake, board member Ricks said he loved everybody and wants everyone to love each other.

Smith is still our county's superintendent this morning despite overwhelming evidence that he shouldn't be.

The reasons and the hand-wringing are immaterial in truth. Five board members — Steve Highlander, Donna Horn, Greg Martin, Karitsa Mosley and Thurman — voted against the buyout.

It was a shock for the crowd, but the meeting on the future leadership of the county's school system had the attention of the entire community. More than 40,000 students and their parents. Thousands of employees and tens of thousands of taxpayers who are picking up the check for the mistakes being cashed at Bonny Oaks.

Smith was the target of that angst, understandably.

Now, with the lack of action, the school board has become the image of inactivity. The school board's indecisiveness Monday moves the blame game further up the flow chart of responsibility.

And sooner or later, they will have to answer to their bosses — voters like you and me.

In a moment of true clarity, board member Martin asked plainly, "What's next?"

Sadly, it appears to be more of the same.

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6273 or jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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