There's nothing we do in Hamilton County with your tax dollars that's more important than education.
— Mayor Jim Coppinger, March 2011
The students and faculty at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts have been asking for a new building for 25 years. At least.
Once again, they were told no, as the mayor last week proposed building some schools but not others, making CSLA the Susan Lucci of Chattanooga schools: the constant loser in our starvation-diet funding of public education.
You'd think Mayor Coppinger would beg, borrow and steal his way to $40 million that would expand CSLA into a K-12 magnet school to benefit the entire county. It's already a National Blue Ribbon School. Students are academic Lebrons, out-testing most of the rest of America. The librarian wins national awards the way others collect late fees.
The teachers? They're Dumbledore.
"Magic. That's the best word," said parent Jessica Thomas. "You have to be in there to feel it. It's such an energy."
There's still hope. Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on whether to accept Coppinger's funding proposal. Here are 25 ideas -- one for each annual "No" -- to change their mind.
1. Call each commissioner.
2. Email each commissioner.
3. Do it again.
4. Remind them of their speeding camera decision. A few weeks ago, the commission initially voted to approve the sheriff's proposal for speeding cameras, but then, after citizens called and emailed in pitchfork-anger at the idea, commissioners quickly reversed their vote.
"The public has made it very clear they are not in favor," Commissioner Marty Haynes said at the time. "My vote will change."
It's a precedent: If commissioners are willing to listen to the people about two traffic cameras, then surely they'll do the same about school funding.
5. Stage a mock funeral on the County Courthouse lawn. Teachers, wear black. Fifth-graders, sing hymns. Someone bury a civics textbook.
7. Not a CSLA parent? You can call, too. A CSLA addition would alleviate overcrowding at your neighborhood high school; it could also open up a spot for your own child. After all, what benefits one group of kids benefits all. This is not "Hunger Games" where we have to sacrifice some kids to save the others.
8. Call again.
9. Email again.
10. Tell them you aren't afraid of a tax increase to build county schools.
11. Tell them you aren't afraid of voting for their opponent (this is an election year, after all).
12. Tell them you are certain they will be wise and courageous and noble enough to do what is right.
13. Stage a children's march across the County Courthouse lawn. If they kick you off, then good. I guarantee you the national media will immediately descend like flies on ...
14. Manure. Fill up brown paper bags with the stuff, grab some matches and then, when it gets dark, sneak over to ... (actually, scratch that.)
15. CSLA administration? Go on a hunger strike. Refuse to eat or drink until Wednesday morning's vote.
16. Invite the public to tour the building. Show off all of the mold, rust and crumbliness. Put hard hats on the second-graders. Let people take gobs of pictures.
17. Encourage those people to email those pictures to media near and far.
18. When the school day ends, don't leave. Turn CSLA into a compound, where parents and teachers and kids spend the next three days, showing the commission how much they love it. Invite the 1,000 other families whose kids are on the school's waiting list to join you.
19. Thank Tim Boyd, the one commissioner who has been championing the CSLA community.
"Through thick and thin," said Thomas, whose child is a second-grader.
20. Keep calling.
21. Keep emailing.
22. Keep praying.
23. Bus students to Wednesday's commission meeting. Let them speak at the microphone. Filibuster the thing with Dr. Seuss. Kindergartners can walk up to the microphone and ask the commission one teensy-tiny question: How much is my education worth to you?
24. Then ask Kendall Kroll to speak. She's a fifth-grader. Her parents camped out for seven days and nights to claim a spot at CSLA for Kendall and her brother Callan.
Let her read out loud to the commission the letter she recently wrote Mayor Coppinger. Let her describe how she adores her teachers and their rock-star lessons (especially when they re-enacted the Civil War using water balloons) and the way they teach their students to be good people.
"Good people keep their promise," she wrote. "Please help me understand why Hamilton County does not keep its promise to build a new school."
25. Don't leave until you get an answer.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...