School & District Management

Board Ponders District Merger in Chattanooga

By Ann Bradley — March 20, 1996 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The school board in Hamilton County, Tenn., is sure of one thing: Come 1997, its schools will consolidate with the Chattanooga city schools. But just how that will happen is far from clear.

Board members are now mulling over an ambitious plan to create a whole new school system instead of simply combining the two old ones. Whether the board will adopt the plan as a blueprint for change, pick and choose among its recommendations, or pass up the chance to rethink the system remains up in the air.

Chattanooga-area business and higher education leaders have rallied behind the blueprint, signing a compact promising to give priority for jobs and college admissions if students can demonstrate increased knowledge and skills.

Educators and some board members in Hamilton County are far less enthusiastic, however. County principals have denounced the plan, which calls for site-based management, as an infringement of their authority.

And some taxpayers and board members are balking at its $22 million price tag, a 7 percent increase over what county taxpayers now spend for education. The two systems have a combined budget of about $200 million and educate 47,000 students.

“What people generally say is, ‘We like the plan, but,”’ said Edna Varner, the principal of Chattanooga Phoenix Middle School and a member of the 36-member committee that wrote the framework. “I think it’s going to be pending for a long time.”

The ferment over education in the region started in November 1994. Chattanooga residents voted to give up their school system, which was losing students and draining tax money, and become part of the surrounding Hamilton County district in 1997. Similar mergers have taken place in Knoxville and Nashville.

But rather than just merge the two systems, members of the board of education asked the Chattanooga-based Public Education Foundation to help lay the groundwork for a new system. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1995.)

Change in the Making

A committee of educators, business people, civic leaders, and parents from both systems spent eight months drafting the document. The 53-page framework contains familiar elements of “systemic” reform, including an emphasis on early-childhood education, high standards and challenging assessments, accountability, and school-based management. It also calls for all students to meet the tougher standards.

In January, the committee formally presented its plan to the nine-member Hamilton County school board. Last month, board members met weekly with the subcommittees that wrote the document to resolve questions.

“The time has come for the school board to start making decisions,” said Debbie Colburn, a board member who favors adopting parts of the framework.

Ms. Colburn said some residents have questioned the assertion that all children can meet the standards. “Maybe it should be reworded to give all children the equal opportunity to achieve this education,” she said.

Where the Buck Stops

But the biggest sticking points are the recommendations for governance and accountability. The framework calls for each school to have a decisionmaking council that would determine the makeup of school staffs and their assignments; decide how to use extra funds provided for low-income students; and make decisions about spending money allocated for books, supplies, equipment, food service, and maintenance.

The councils would be made up of a majority of teachers and school staff members, but parents and community members would serve as well. Principals would be able to overrule the council decisions “when absolutely necessary.” Councils would have a hand in hiring teachers by making recommendations to principals, and in hiring principals by advising the superintendent.

Currently, Hamilton County schools use a form of shared decisionmaking. Schools have two councils, one made up of educators who make decisions about curriculum and instruction and one of parents who advise on dress codes and other school policies.

The document makes clear that principals would have final responsibility for the operation of their schools and says that schools will be held accountable for meeting high standards.

Steven H. Prigohzy, the president of the Public Education Foundation, remarked that “everyone wants authority. They’re delighted to have it. It’s accountability that seems to be at issue.”

Increasing the role of parents in school governance would be a major change for many schools, Ms. Varner noted. “Everyone I talked to does not want parents in a governing role,” she said.

Fred R. Skillern, a 20-year board veteran, said he would not vote for a plan that allowed a council to assign teachers but held principals responsible for student achievement.

“Some of these ideas are wonderful and work real good in private education,” he said. “But when it’s public education, we have to take everybody. We can’t test anyone before they enter our schools.”

Bill Bowman, the president of the Hamilton County Education Association, expressed doubt that the board will put any of the recommendations into action.

“My personal opinion is the board didn’t realize what would happen,” Mr. Bowman said. “I think the Public Education Foundation went beyond what was expected of it, although they did it for very commendable reasons.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 3 Ways School Districts Can Ease the Pain of Supply Chain Chaos
Have a risk management plan, pay attention to what's happening up the supply chain, and be adaptable when necessary.
3 min read
Cargo Ship - Supply Chain with products such as classroom chairs, milk, paper products, and electronics
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Vulnerable Students, Districts at Greater Risk as Natural Disasters Grow More Frequent
New federal research indicates the harm from fires and storms to school facilities, learning, and mental health is disproportionate.
4 min read
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric intentionally shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Helina Thorp, right, 14, expresses frustration while unsuccessfully trying to log in to her school distance-learning classes in Placerville, Calif., after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to prevent wildfires amid high winds in September 2020.
Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP
School & District Management Opinion What It Takes for Universities to Conduct Useful Education Research
Many institutions lack the resources to make research-school partnerships successful, warns Thomas S. Dee.
Thomas S. Dee
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers collaborating.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Trust Keeps Our School-Research Relationship Alive in the Pandemic
An educator and a researcher describe how their team was able to nudge forward a plan for equity even as COVID changed almost everything.
Katherine Mortimer & Scott Gray
3 min read
Illustration of coworkers analyzing data.
iStock/Getty