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Staff File Photo By Matt Hamilton / District 3 incumbent Joe Smith speaks during a school board candidate forum held by Moms for Liberty at Red Bank High School earlier this month.

If there is any doubt how much politics has crept into school boards across the country, the Hamilton County Board of Education's actions on Thursday night served as an example.

Two members of the board voted against the body becoming current with state law in stating that the gender of students participating in middle school and high school athletics must be their sex at birth, and one member abstained. Also at the meeting, four members of the board — not a majority — signed a statement condemning remarks made about teachers by Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and Gov. Bill Lee for not defending the teachers.

Whatever one thinks about Arnn's comments, and we have made our displeasure with them clear, the school board needn't have weighed into this topic, especially when there was not unanimous agreement on such a statement and that Arnn has said his remarks were misinterpreted.

We believe board member Joe Wingate had the correct response about the statement at a previous meeting.

"I'm just not interested in a political moment, I'm just not," he said. "My job here is to try to help this school system, support this school system to a level where it can add value to our county."

The six contested school board seats in August, thus, take on much more importance in an effort to have a body that is more interested in the education of children and less in social engineering or making political statements.

In those races, the first for Tennessee in which candidates can choose a political party under which to run, the Chattanooga Free Press opinion page recommends:

In District 3, Joe Smith:

The majority of the incumbent's work life and home life has been about giving children a better opportunity to grow and thrive. In the six years the Republican has been on the board, he has sought opinions from constituents, educators, administrators and others in determining his votes, all while balancing those views with his own positive, Christian, conservative world view.

"Joe Smith has by far been the most available, willing, visible and supportive school board member I have ever known," a Hixson area school counselor was quoted as saying on his campaign Facebook page. " His story and life work [have] given him a unique position to be in tune to the needs of our schools and our families while trying to keep academics the top priority. He walks his talk more than anyone I know."

His Democratic opponent, Jenn Piroth, is a sign language interpreter and has four children in District 3 schools. Among her ideas if she were elected are to change the bell times at schools so that no school begins before 8:30 a.m. She raised eyebrows during a recent online debate — and probably lost no little bit of voter credibility — in claiming that "Democrats care more about education than Republicans."

We enthusiastically endorse the Republican Smith for a second full term.

In District 5, Charles Paty:

We supported Karitsa Mosley Jones in her last race for the board because she seemed the most knowledgeable and open of the two candidates running, but we believe in the last four years that openness has too often been replaced by an "us vs. them" stance. That's not the tone we would hope for from a school board member in trying to achieve a better education for all.

When confronted about low graduation rates at Brainerd High School by her opponent in an online debate earlier this week, for instance, instead of taking a "more hard work must be done" attitude, the Democrat blamed the fact the state has had two governors, two education commissioners, several school superintendents and several principals over the period as the problem.

We understand Jones can't on her own raise test scores or improve graduation rates, but excuses — and angry board outbursts when she doesn't agree with the issue being raised — don't help solve the problem.

Paty, an attorney and graduate of Brainerd High School, is not likely to have all the answers, either, but we believe the Republican will be amenable to calmer board collaboration, to communication with district administrators and to helping turn around the situation in District 5 schools.

We urge his election.

In District 6: Ben Connor:

The Democrat has two children in local public schools (and soon two more) and appears to have made the race less a partisan contest and more about finding the best solutions for students.

A philanthropic coordinator, Connor has been a volunteer in his children's schools and in the community. He is concerned about supporting teachers, improving school facilities, keeping learning environments safe and giving all students "the best chance to thrive." Importantly, he emphasizes "an open, collaborative relationship between our school system and the rest of the community."

He is opposed by Republican Jon Baker, who said his first priority is a parents' hotline to him to help them handle concerns with their children's schools. We believe he means well but that the board would be better off with a candidate more familiar with district schools and the need for more cooperation and less confrontation.

In District 8, No endorsement:

Republican Larry Grohn, a former one-term Chattanooga city councilman and a 2017 Chattanooga mayoral candidate, has a much better handle on the issues in the race than Democratic opponent Katie Perkins. As a former school teacher, he is aware of trends in the country about parents wanting more visibility in their children's education and can cite facts and figures on local schools.

However, he has not taken the responsibility we believe he should about an incident in which he was accused of stealing campaign signs. He called it much ado about nothing and claimed he was moving signs and planned to return them to the proper owner. However, an arrest warrant was taken out for him, the local district attorney and local judges have recused themselves in the incident, and a trial is set for Aug. 23 in Marion County.

Grohn then went on to ask this page why it would ask such a "ludicrous question" about whether the incident would disqualify him from serving on the school board and to poke fun that the public even would want to know about what happened. We worry about such a holier-than-thou attitude if he is elected to the school board.

However, we cannot endorse Perkins. Both in an earlier editorial board meeting with the Times Free Press and in a recent online debate, she was not able to answer questions with as much knowledge and detail as we believe a candidate who will have responsibility for some 45,000 students and thousands of district education employees should offer.

In District 10, Faye Robinson:

We believe the Republican, a retired insurance agent and former small business owner, will roll up her sleeves — as is her reputation — and be a collaborative partner in trying to improve the school district and make it one of the best in Tennessee.

She advocates an emphasis on academic fundamentals (plus more life skills being taught), parental involvement and facilities enhancement.

Robinson is opposed by Jeff Crim, the pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church and a local hospital chaplain, and Christine Essex, a Republican running as an independent who is the mother of a public school student. Although Crim was the strongest of the three in answering questions posed in an online debate earlier this week, we believe Robinson offers the leadership that most closely mirrors that of the conservative constituents in the new district, one of two created in the Hamilton County Commission's redistricting process following the 2020 census.

In District 11, Virginia Anne Manson:

In a race among two strong, intelligent women and independent Steve McKinney, we lean to the one whose values most closely parallel the conservative history of this page. Manson's slogan is "Parents Know Best," and we believe that has never been more true than today.

The pandemic in 2020 and 2021 exposed parents across the country to what their children were being taught in public schools, and many were shocked at what they heard and have learned since about what is in their school libraries and reading materials. Manson's local application is "to unite our parents, teachers and school administration because when we all work together for the betterment of the next generation, we all win."

Recognizing that many students in the newly created district have "fallen behind academically for far too long," Manson wants to help be part of the solution, emphasizing that "[n]o matter what political party we are affiliated with, we should all be able to come together to make decisions that help our children, not hurt them."

We have appreciated the fact her Democratic opponent, Jill Black, has run a positive campaign, uplifting the individual district schools and not making the race "us vs. them" or practicing the politics of personal destruction, but we endorse Manson.

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