published Friday, March 28th, 2014

Cook: Scream bloody murder

We only need 450,000,000 box tops. — CSLA parent

As parents left weeping, the politicians congratulated themselves on a spit-spot job well done.

"This was a good day for education," Mayor Jim Coppinger said at the end of Wednesday's Hamilton County Commission meeting.

Most heartbroken Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts moms and dads would deeply disagree. In the last few days, they've camped out, held signs, gone on talk radio, sent a combined 304 emails, and made God-knows-how-many phone calls, all begging commissioners to please-please-please include their school on the mayor's list of building projects.

Wednesday morning, quite quickly, the commissioners told them no, then got back to congratulating each other, apparently suffering from the delusion that funding some schools but not all is an acceptable thing. It was like they'd won an Oscar.

"I commend the mayor and his staff," said Tim Boyd.

"I, too, want to commend the mayor's office," said Joe Graham.

"I'd like to thank the commission," said Fred Skillern.

"I just want to congratulate this commission and say thank you," said Coppinger.

To the parents, who got out-thanked by a ratio of 5-1, it was a total dis. If that wasn't bad enough, then came all the deflecting and dodging, which began moments into the meeting.

"Let's totally understand what the responsibility of this commission body is," Boyd told the crowd of parents.

According to Boyd, the commission's task is to approve the resolution before them, which originated with the mayor and school board. They're the ones that make specific requests for funding.

"This resolution is going to pass," he said, "and it's going to pass strongly because this commission stands together."

Noooooo. Your job is not to stand together. Your job is to do what's right, to be the last stop of checks and balances that prevents anything damaging or unfair from sneaking by in the long process of funding public schools.

Your job is to think critically and act independently, not collectively and en masse, like a school of fish, always united together.

(If everybody jumped off a bridge, would the commission follow?)

Why abdicate your power so easily, so ... unanimously? If your job is only to rubber-stamp-approve whatever the mayor hands you, then bow out of the game entirely, and give the taxing-funding power to the school board, where it belongs anyway.

Then, create a school board member who represents magnet schools.

But Wednesday, the commissioners tried to wash their hands of it all, like Pontius Pilate, and deflect all blame onto the school system.

"I would implore you to get onto your school board members and to the superintendent and scream bloody murder until you get at least the minor repairs done that you need done to your building to make it suitable for everyday living," Graham said.

Scream bloody murder, because our kids go to school in falling-down buildings that aren't even suitable for everyday education.

Scream bloody murder, because school funding is not some either-or, scraps-from-the-table proposition, and the four schools that did get money are just the tiniest tip on the iceberg of needs.

"My cousin in Germany is collecting box tops," one CSLA mother said.

Scream bloody murder, because we are living in a time when education has never been more important. One local business leader just traveled to Silicon Valley to tout Chattanooga. Do you think he wined and dined American business leaders, whispering to them the sweet-nothings of how we fund our public schools?

Move here! Enroll your kids in our schools! Just don't forget their hard hats!

Oh yes, scream bloody murder ... just not to the commission.

"Lord only knows I've heard enough about schools in the last week," Skillern said afterward, when most of the parents had left the room.

As he was thanking LouisWright, who's retiring as the finance director, and praising the financial soundness that allowed four school projects to get funded, Skillern cracked a joke about the morning's meeting.

"If you think this was a crowd, if you think this was exciting, Louis has seen many, many more meetings that made this look like it was a Sunday school picnic," he said.

Chuckle, chuckle. Great one, Fred. If Sale Creek Middle-High had been left off the funding list, I wonder if you'd be so jocular. (Look it up).

And that, public school parent, is the worst part. The picnic-joke dismissal. The ho-humness. The banality of mediocrity. Roofs are falling down on our kids, and schools are waiting decades for new buildings ... but don't forget, it's a good day for education.

"We don't pick the winners and losers," Coppinger said. "It just falls the way that it falls as a result of funding."

Winners? Losers?

I think they're called students.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

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 ...

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AndrewLohr said...

Since home schooling often gets excellent results for a lot less money, and private schools for somewhat less money, let the public schools save money by paying students to leave. Voluntary spending cuts! Parental involvement! Variety! Freedom! If it costs Rick Smith $10,000 per child per year, let Tennessee rewrite its laws to offer each child a $5000 spending cut scholarship if they leave, and Rick gets to keep the other $5000. For every 8 students who leave, every student left in the Rick's system gets another dollar.

March 28, 2014 at 12:29 a.m.
fairmon said...

A lot of repairs could be done with the around one million dollars of the 100,000 each commissioner gets annually and carries over if not spent at their personal discretion. There is no logical reason for the practice of providing each of the commission members with that much to spend on any county activity they choose except that it can influence votes in their district.

March 28, 2014 at 12:53 a.m.
zulalily said...

As a taxpayer, I understand that difficult financial decisions have to be made by our elected representatives. As a retired teacher, I understand that it is difficult to work in a situation where the building is old and funds are limited. As a parent, I understand that each parent has the right, even the responsibility, to advocate for the best possible education for his or her child. What I fail to understand is David Cook's continuing to incite parents to protest the educated decision made by the county commission in spending the available funds. If he is going to insist on a new CSLA, then maybe he should explain how it is to be paid for. The county commission knows that this is not the time to raise taxes and if that is proposed, then a real protest will take place at the court house! I do believe that it is way past time to take away the million dollars that the commissioners split up among themselves--that would be a good starting point for fiscal accountability.

March 28, 2014 at 7:07 a.m.
AgentX said...

I agree with zulalily- it seems David Cook is only out to stir up trouble. He only writes to throw gas on a fire. There is only so much money to go around, and not everyone can get a new school. Sorry CSLA, you didn't make the cut. Perhaps next time.

March 28, 2014 at 8:21 a.m.
John_Proctor said...

Which "next time?" Next time is what CSLA has been told since 1996.

March 28, 2014 at 10:08 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Good private schools spend much more per student than public schools, Andrew.

March 28, 2014 at 10:40 a.m.
GaussianInteger said...

^I guess Andrew has failed to look up the costs to send a kid to McCallie, Baylor, or GPS.

March 28, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Fill up the underutilized schools already built first. Some are barely half full. Combine schools when necessary.

March 28, 2014 at 1:03 p.m.
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