The Hamilton County Board of Education moved to sell a deteriorating school building and also allow the opening of a new charter school at its regular meeting Thursday.
After twice denying the application from the New Consortium of Law and Business, the board voted 7-2 on Thursday to allow the charter’s opening. The state board of education held an appeal hearing last month and remanded the decision to Hamilton County for approval, officials said.
District administrators recommended against approval on the first application. A second application was reviewed more favorably, and administrators recommended approval. However, at a specially called December meeting with only six members present, only four voted for the proposal, falling one short of the necessary five.
“I guess we essentially remanded it back to them so they could do what they wanted to do in the first place,” David Sevier, deputy executive director of the state board, said earlier Thursday.
The school board voted without discussion. Members David Testerman and Rhonda Thurman were the only ones to vote against the application.
The New Consortium plans to house grades six through 12 and focus on business and law studies. Founder Tommie Henderson was a co-founder of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, which opened in 2005 as the state’s first charter school. With 750 students, it’s now the largest charter in Tennessee.
Henderson has said he plans to start with a group of 25 sixth-graders and work up to a capacity of 210 students within six years.
The local board also voted on Thursday to move ahead with selling the now-closed 21st Century Academy building. The board received two bids on the building — a $12,500 offer from Emerson Russell Management Corp., and a $50,000 bid from Helton and Associates.
Displeased with those offers on the building, which is appraised at $350,000, school leaders asked for better offers last month. Each company rebid, though ERMC ultimately withdrew both its offers, said Gary Waters, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.
The board voted 7-2 to approve a $110,000 bid from Helton and Associates, with board members Everett Fairchild and Testerman casting the only dissenting votes. Though absent from Thursday’s meeting, W.C. “Bud” Helton earlier said he plans to transform the old school building, at 4201 Cherryton Drive, into a business incubator and community space.
Helton has a window of time to obtain rezoning and work through other issues before the sale is finalized, Waters said.
In other business, the school board:
• Thanked Fairchild for his 19 years of service. A retired school principal, Fairchild stepped down from his position Thursday because of health concerns. The County Commission will appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
• Heard an update on a community advisory committee being formed to study the school system’s rezoning proposal for several schools in East Hamilton County. Superintendent Rick Smith said the group of parents will meet with staff members throughout the next two weeks so that the zoning proposal can be put up for a board vote in April.
• Appointed members George Ricks, Testerman and Jeffrey Wilson to serve on a committee with Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade to review the school system’s zero tolerance policy. Board Chairman Mike Evatt said the committee was formed in response to the community’s questions on how schools deal with gang activity. Board attorney Scott Bennett urged the group to think about regulating specific behaviors and not to focus on the motivation for those behaviors.
• Heard a request that next week’s ACT testing day be used as a planning day for all teachers not proctoring the exam. Hamilton County Education Association President Sandy Hughes asked the board to give teachers more planning time because of the upcoming round of high-stakes state assessments, the results of which will be tied to a teacher’s evaluation for the first time this year.
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 ...