published Friday, September 14th, 2012

Hamilton County Commission likes deal with school board

Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Hamilton County Commission will vote on a new agreement between it and the school board and also vote to approve TWH Architects as designers on the new East Brainerd Elementary School at its 9:30 a.m. meeting Wednesday.

There was a sign of peace Thursday morning in the battle between the Hamilton County Commission and the county school board.

While some county commissioners made it clear they've still got issues with the school board's management of money, others said the board's recent draft of a new agreement with the county is enough of a compromise to move forward.

In an act of concession, the school board voted last week for a agreement between the two bodies that puts money from school property sales back into the county's hands, where it is set aside for future building projects or improvements.

The agreement also calls for titling new school buildings to both the county and the school system, instead of just the school system.

"I think this is enough protection for this commission and I will be supporting the approval of it next week," said Commissioner Fred Skillern after hearing from school board attorney Scott Bennett about the plan.

The commission voted last month to halt the construction process for the new East Brainerd Elementary School. Officials with the school system say the new school is key in their strategy of combating overcrowding and continued growth in schools on the county's eastern side.

At the time, commissioners said they were unsure of what the school system plans to do with its future revenue when it sells excess property. They wanted assurance that the money would go toward construction projects and not be placed in general funds.

The school system's current plan calls for selling two high-value school properties in the next few years: Ooltewah Elementary School along Lee Highway and East Brainerd Elementary on East Brainerd Road.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the body would vote on the new agreement and vote on moving ahead with East Brainerd at next week's meeting. But the proposed agreement didn't seem to go far enough for some commissioners.

Commissioner Joe Graham said any cash from the sale of old schools should go back to the county to help pay off the debt on previously built schools so new schools can get under way more quickly.

"That should go to pay for the debt," he said, "not for a spending spree."

School leaders maintain they've always put those funds into other construction or improvement projects. School board Chairman Mike Evatt said the system shouldn't have to repay the county's debt because state law doesn't allow school districts to carry debt.

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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