published Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Hamilton County's teachers union targets school boards

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    Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association
    Photo by Monira Al-Haroun

Should only former teachers or school administrators be allowed to run for school board seats?
TEA Legislative Proposal
TEA Legislative Proposal

The leader of Hamilton County's teachers union wants only those who have worked in the education field to serve on state and local school boards.

That's among several ideas pitched by Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, for the upcoming state legislative session. She's also hoping the Tennessee General Assembly will put the brakes on some of last year's education reform measures.

When it comes to the qualifications to serve on school boards, Hughes said she's most concerned about state school board members -- who are appointed -- because they set so much of the state's educational rules and regulations. But local school boards -- whose members are picked by voters -- could toughen their qualifications, too, she said.

"I really believe both local and state school board members should have some experience in education besides having just gone to school sometime in the past because education is so complex."

She proposes that to qualify for a school board post a candidate must have been a teacher, administrator or school employee.

The idea wasn't immediately popular.

Though he's heard similar proposals before, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he doesn't think the idea will get much support in the statehouse.

"The school board is a local entity and should be made up of citizens of diverse backgrounds," he said. "It should not be limited to only those in education."

Hamilton County Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman said the voters get to decide what kind of background they want from school board members.

"You elect who the people want," she said. "If they're educators, fine. If they're not, fine."

Thurman, who's a hair stylist, said the board's diverse makeup is an asset in decision making.

Joe Galloway, a retired teacher and administrator with 35 years of experience, said he finds institutional knowledge to be helpful in doing board business.

"I would tend to think that it would be valuable to be in education to be on the school board," Galloway said, "but I don't know that it should be a requirement."

He said he encourages former school personnel to run for school board, but he said he also sees the value in having people from other backgrounds, such as business, on the board. He pointed to board member Linda Mosley, chairwoman of the finance committee, who works in the banking industry.

"I think there's a good combination of people with different backgrounds working together," he said.

Legislative priorities

On the state level, the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has drafted a list containing dozens of legislative proposals. It asks for higher teacher salaries, programs to eliminate school violence, daily teacher planning time, enhancing teacher retirement benefits and full funding of the state's higher education formula, among other items. HCEA is a local affiliate of the TEA.

Locally, Hughes said she'd like to see the legislature be more careful in opening the door for charter and virtual schools, both of which recently were expanded under Tennessee law. She also hopes to see the legislature repeal the Collaborative Conferencing Act, which stripped unions of negotiating powers.

Hughes said changes in teacher tenure laws were unnecessary because tenure has never ensured a teacher's job, just a teacher's right to due process. She said principals have always been responsible for dismissing poor teachers.

"It's not hard to fire a teacher," she said. "But we don't want to make it so easy that you fire a teacher just because you don't like that person."

Watson said he doesn't think the legislature has much interest in repealing its recent changes to educational law, though some items may need to be tweaked.

"I don't see us backtracking on any of the education reforms that we passed in the last couple of years," Watson said. "I see us continuing to refine and perhaps improve on some of those reforms."

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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rolando said...

The leader of Hamilton County's teachers union wants only those who have worked in the education field to serve on state and local school boards.

Of course she does. That way the boards would eventually be packed with union members and those who are sympathetic to the outmoded, failed union creed and goals. To say nothing of increased taxpayer funding.

Get rid of the unions altogether in public service .

December 13, 2011 at 6:29 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I came home from war and found out that someone elected people to the school board who state in public "Slaves learned to read." I remain shocked and offended at your collective ignorance and direct attempts at destroying public education in this area. Get it together. Stop being stupid. Elect smart people to govern and lead public education in this area.

December 13, 2011 at 7:40 a.m.
ldurham said...

Oh. So slaves didn't learn to read? Didn't know that.

December 13, 2011 at 7:57 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

It's clear from these letters that the education process has failed for some. However, as much as I support teachers, the idea she proposes is bad.

December 13, 2011 at 8:16 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

From what I have seen, Rhonda is not only smarter than a fifth grader, she is smarter than most of the Hamilton County Education Association.

December 13, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.
Astropig said...

What she is proposing is classic "regulatory capture" That is the process whereby the people that need to be regulated because they are a monopoly or have unusual power-both of which apply here- choose their regulators. Imagine if state public utility commissions were staffed by lawyers looking for high paying jobs with utilities. Imagine if congress regulated the very businesses that can write million dollar checks to their campaigns.

This is the kind of idea that only an arrogant monopoly could love.

December 13, 2011 at 8:24 a.m.

While I may agree that there is no way everyone serving on the Board should be a former educator or administrator. There is also no way that you can do away with the union itself. There has to be an organization to stand up for the teachers. I feel that people serving on the board should really have a understanding of how the board and school system works internally. Current and past board members will complain about teacher benefits then turn around and vote themselves in on those same benefits they were just complaining about. They will also complain about spending certain amounts of money on training teachers but then vote out the last two superintendents costing the school system almost a million dollars. I really think that Mrs. Hughes should have just kept her thoughts on this silent because of the trust issues facing unions today.

December 13, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.
solomon11 said...

I served on an education board for a private school and I've never been a teacher. I am a business professional and you need to have a mix of views and experiences to make it work. I have two children and I brought the perspective of not only how to run a business, which a school is, but the perspective of the parents and what they want for their childs education.

December 13, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.

joepulitzer said...

From what I have seen, Rhonda is not only smarter than a fifth grader, she is smarter than most of the Hamilton County Education Association.

Maybe you really need to go back and look just how much money Mrs. Thurman has wasted since being on the board. Her track record clearly shows that saving money for the school system has never nor will never be her first priority. Over a "MILLION" that's right a "MILLION" dollars have been wasted on benefits for part time workers (board members), monies for outgoing board members not re-elected and superintendents to just leave instead of earning the rest of their money by working for it. I for one am still trying to see where the smartness is in any of her decisions.

December 13, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
Winner said...

Rhonda Thurman = Satan.

December 13, 2011 at 10:24 a.m.
hixsondave said...

I guess in the "teachers union" perfect world they would have the board staffed with union members that could in turn set property tax rates.

December 13, 2011 at 11:19 a.m.
kdawg said...

Every teacher in Hamilton County needs an advanced degree but the board that gives them direction does not. In fact some current board members do not even have a college degree. Who in their right mind would call a hair stylist if you needed work done on you car? Or a hair stylist if you had a cold? It is folly to think that a board can work stocking it with people solely based on the fact they can win a popularity contest. We demand more of our teachers we should demand and expect more from our board members.

December 13, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.
wcat615 said...

Ever hear the phrase "letting the wolf guard the hen house"?

December 13, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.
zulalily said...

As a retired educator with work toward a doctorate, I have sat in on local school board meetings and I have found Mrs. Thurman very well-equipped to make decisions. She always seems very prepared and to have done any necessary "homework" for the meetings' business. What I have found troubling in the past year, however, are the two Black men on the board who do not understand hardly anything going on. It is actually painful to listen to them try to argue and ask questions that are just so very basic. They are both obviously very much out of their element and it is frustrating to have to constantly halt the flow of the business while every move has to be gone over in great detail before they seem to understand. Surely, the Black community has better people to represent their interests than these two!

December 13, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.
CBIKAS said...

Winner, Satan's hair never looked that good!

December 13, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.
tipper said...

If you look at where Tennessee ranks in education--48th, and you look at the quality and backgrounds of elected officials in state and local government who unfortunately have some influence in public education, it easy to understand why our kids suffer. K12, the online program that takes $5000-plus per student of taxpayer funds, is supported by Michael Milken, a well-known Wall Street insider trader. You wouldn't trust a hairdresser to manage your stock portfolio or service your car, why would you trust one to manage your children's education? Leave education to the professionals. Educators are actually trained to educate. Politicians are trained to represent numerous interests. Unfortunately, those interests are often not your children's.

December 13, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.
Humphrey said...

Wow. I didn't know that black school board members only represented the "interests of the black community."

December 13, 2011 at 2:08 p.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

I don't think a restriction would be legal, and I don't want to see people with good ideas and a beneficial background shut out, but I do think school board members should be required to spend a certain amount of time job shadowing teachers, principals, and central office staff - and they should be required to attend all the New Teacher Network meetings in order to meet new teachers and get some basics on school law, classroom management, dealing with parents, etc. There are way too much ignorance displayed on the part of those who have never worked in schools. If you're going to make good decisions, you have to have some knowledge of the way schools work from the perspective of the adults who are there.

December 13, 2011 at 5:54 p.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

I appreciate your perspective, solomon, but you are sorely mistaken. A school is not like a business. The purpose of the business is to provide goods and/or services in return for a profit. The purpose of a school is to produce an educated populace. The fact that so many are trying to turn public schools into an investment opportunity (K12, charter schools, standardized testing companies, curriculum packaging, etc) is one of the major problems facing education today.

December 13, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Bad idea for obvious reasons.

December 13, 2011 at 8:29 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

Unions are generally thugs first, and professionals second. Just look at the idiots with the shame signs protesting construction jobs where their over-priced bids (with lazy workers) did not get the job.

December 13, 2011 at 8:40 p.m.
rolando said...

Solomon speaks of private schools, AA, and the are a business that not only produces fine products -- well educated children -- but makes a profit in the process. Therefor his viewpoint is quite important...perhaps more so than yours.

Perhaps the "profit motive" is one reason the charter schools, et al are proving better at educating children than the usual suspects.

December 13, 2011 at 10 p.m.
rolando said...

lovetheus said, There is also no way that you can do away with the union itself. There has to be an organization to stand up for the teachers.

We had competent teachers in our public schools long before the unions took them over.

Exceptionalism in our public schools today is not just unrewarded, it is a four-letter word among the unionized faculty and their hangers-on "leaders" -- because it makes all the slothful, incompetent union slugs look as bad as they really are.

December 13, 2011 at 10:06 p.m.
rolando said...

lovetheus said, There is also no way that you can do away with the union itself. There has to be an organization to stand up for the teachers.

We had competent teachers in our public schools long before the unions took them over.

Exceptionalism in our public schools today is not just unrewarded, it is a four-letter word among the unionized faculty and their hangers-on "leaders" -- because it makes all the slothful, incompetent union slugs look as bad as they really are.

Heaven [or the unions] forbid all the pay raises might go to those who actually earn it [as they should] by doing something outstanding or exceptional for those under their care and not for themselves.

December 13, 2011 at 10:10 p.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

rolando, I couldn't care less who's opinion you find more important or why - especially since you clearly don't have your facts straight.

First, I am not aware of any local for-profit private schools (although I may be mistaken in assuming that solomon was on the board of a local private school). McCallie, Baylor, and GPS are all non-profit as are the local church-affiliated schools. Excluding charters, most private schools actually operate on a non-profit basis. And while many do produce very well-educated students, might I remind you that private schools get to pick and choose who they accept and have the ability to remove disruptive students at any time. Public schools (rightly) have to accept any and all students regardless of ability, attitude, or family circumstances.

As for charters, you are way off-base if you think they do such a better job. The fact is that most of them aren't performing better than local public schools. There has been some general improvement in poorer communities, but again, the near guarantee of parental support, the ability to pick and choose students, and remove disruptive students at will is a major contributing factor.

Honestly, rolando, opinions like yours - biased and uninformed - are the reason why people need to spend a little quality time in schools before spouting off opinions.

December 13, 2011 at 11:06 p.m.

My misguided friend Rolando, it is simpler to let people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove it. Amanda has already covered the school issue with you so I wont again but maybe if you heard it enough you would pay attention. I will however go over your remark we had teachers long before the unions came in. That is a true statement. However at that time anyone could walk in and be a teacher. Can you please find me another occupation that requires a person to spend $100,000.00 on a degree to only make the amount of money that puts them at the poverty level in America? I am sure that you can not. If you or anyone else thinks that school system would take care of the teachers without the unions support then you are living in a fantasy world. We see right here in Hamilton County the leaders of the system don't care about the teachers. Last year a proposal to give employees a bonus at Christmas was shot down by the same people who get full time benefits for part time work. The same people that are willing to give people hundreds of thousands of dollars to just leave when they are in fact the same people that gave them their job. Did I mention they are also the same ones that voted themselves in a retirement package. They are also the same ones that talk about the benefits package of the teachers being to much (they have it too) and to much time off work. But how many of them take work home every night to complete or go in on their days off to get classrooms ready all doing so without being paid? So I stand by my remark the union for teachers is needed.

December 14, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
hixsondave said...

lovetheusa: The big difference in teachers and school board members is we can be rid of bad school board members at election time. Bad administrators and teachers are with us a lot longer than an election cycle thanks to the union. Someone spends $100,000.00 to gain a $35,000.00 job should go into politics... if they are teaching math in our public schools it helps explain the dismal math scores.

December 14, 2011 at 9:04 a.m.
teach_them_all said...

@ hixsondave - You said, "Bad administrators and teachers are with us a lot longer than an election cycle thanks to the union."

Bad teachers are with school systems longer because supervisors do not want to keep records concerning teacher performance and complete paperwork to have the teachers dismissed. A good administrator will observe a teacher, offer them feedback for improvement, help them develop a professional improvement plan, and follow up to make sure the work is done. If not, then the administrator can take the necessary steps for removal of the teacher. If a teacher has been teaching for a long time then they have passed through observations of professors while earning their degrees, and the observations of mentors and administrators throughout their careers. If none of those professionals took the time or made the effort to remove the teacher then they are the reason those bad teachers are still there, not the union. The union just helps make sure that the school district show cause for the dismissal and give the teacher an opportunity to improve him/herself. A good administrator can have a bad teacher gone within a school year which is much shorter than a term in office.

December 14, 2011 at 9:05 p.m.

Wow teach, that was much better than what my response was going to be. I was simply going to say considering how many bad politicians are elected they seem to be re-elected time and time again I see no difference.

December 14, 2011 at 10:54 p.m.
hixsondave said...

Now teach who are you kidding. That sounded real good but we all know it just isn't so. May be that's the way it should work, with tenure and the union it will never happen.

December 15, 2011 at 7:03 a.m.
chet123 said...

Dec. 13, 6:29am...Rolando said...people that have worked in the education field(true knowledge in Education) serving on the school board would pack the school Board with Union members...Hmmmmmmmm...this mean non-union members are dumb butt???? No meat head only dummy like Rhonda Thurman..the pride of soddy daisey....the hair dresser!!...part-time expert in educating our children!!! LORD HELP US!

This is the kind of idiotic statement this looney have when he get up in the morning....this is his first thoughts ha ha ha ha..only in southeast tennessee ha ha ha

December 15, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
chet123 said...

Rhonda Thurman said School Board should be diverse ha ha ha that means dumb people should in the make-up of the school board ha ha ha

December 15, 2011 at 8:38 a.m.
hixsondave said...

Chet, if Ms. Thurman bothers you so bad vote her out of office. Sorry I forgot you aren't in her district "ha ha ha". You can always look at it like Obama, we can vote him out but we can't do anything about the idiots that voted for him.

December 15, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

Dave are you trying to say you have actual knowledge of how the system works or are you like many others that think they do and will not accept the facts? It seemed to me it was laid out in good detail from someone with actual knowledge, but if you refuse to accepts those facts the so be it. It is amazing how some people will ask a question but never really want it answered.

December 15, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
hixsondave said...

Teach did a great job of explaining how the system should work and she even touched on administrative responsibility. Dismissing a tenured teacher that hasn't committed a crime is almost impossible task. Truth is if a tenured union member "bad teacher is gone within a school year" as teach says, they have been transferred to another school or the main office. Teach laid it out in good detail just didn't go into detail.

December 15, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

Dismissing a tenured teacher that hasn't committed a crime is almost impossible task.

Really? I've seen it done quite a few times. What special knowledge of the process do you have?

Teach laid it out in good detail just didn't go into detail.


December 16, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.
ddgala said...

Sandy Hughes has a point in her argument. How effective are lay people in making decisions about issues in education? As we have seen in Hamilton County, even a former Principal seems to have lost touch with the issues in education. When money, instead of effective education programs, leads such a former educator by the nose it makes it difficult to support Ms. Hughes. After all, the former public school Principal hasn't done any better than the lay people on the HC School Board.

If you question what I write here, then check your property tax bill of 1995 and compare it with the student test scores of that year. Now, examine your property tax bill for 2010 and compare it with the student test scores for 2010. Any problem? You are pay a lot more for less. This is what the former Principal on our school board supported. How does this differ with what the lay people did on this school board? This does not differ one bit!

Sorry, Ms. Hughes, but although you have some concerns about the school board, the reasoning appears to be weak, at least when we examine the evidence. For your information, I have been concerned for some time, but the people keep re-electing the same people who caused the problem. This may be the problem..., or are the elections fixed? Unfortunately, I am not as naive as I once had been.

December 29, 2011 at 10:13 p.m.
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