Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
On Tuesday, October 26th, the Hamilton County School Board met jointly with the Hamilton County Commission to discuss the possibility of switching from Nine Districts to Eleven Districts for both the School Board and the Commission.
The aim of the meeting was for the Commission to get input from the School Board Members.
District 7 Commission Member and Chair, Sabrena Smedley addressed the School Board Members stating, “I want to be very considerate of what you are going through right now in terms of the process of trying to search for our next Superintendent. I would really like to hear how you think increasing Districts may or may not impact that search and then any other ways you think increasing Districts would have an impact.”
Before hearing from the School Board Members, representatives from the Hamilton County Election Commission along with the School Board attorney and County attorney were invited to speak.
Scott Allen, Administration of the Hamilton County Election Commission expressed that the final decision on redistricting will have an effect on the Election Commission’s operations and will impact voters.
Allen expressed that the Elections Commission’s main concern about increasing the number of Districts is the creation of confusion among voters.
Allen also stated that, if there are changes to the Districts, the Elections Commission needs them to be finalized as soon as possible in order to allow time to make preparations for voters, including sending notices to residents regarding new places to vote.
School Board Attorney Scott Bennett stated that for the number of seats on the school board to increase, it will require a Private Act to be passed by the Tennessee State legislature and the Hamilton County School District is only permitted to have a maximum of nine seats under the current law.
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor echoed Bennett adding that the County Commission can increase the number of seats in the Commission itself up to 25 without a need for a new law.
Taylor stated that if the Commission chooses to act to increase its number of seats, the legal language of the change can be worded in such a way that it is clear the School Districts wish to mirror the number of Commission seats so the process of getting the law changed will be expedited in the Tennessee Legislature.
Several school board members voiced concerns about losing the current schools they work with closely should there be a change.
Commission Chair Smedley said, “I don’t think any of us, at the end of the day, are getting what we want but we’re doing the best we can to deal with the growth. We have 366,000 folks living here now. If we go to this eleven District proposal, we’re going to each be representing roughly 33,000 people. It is probably time to increase the district, maybe by a couple, just because of all the growth.”
District 8 School Board Member and Chairman Tucker McClendon raised concerns that the Superintendent candidates they are looking at now believe they are coming in to work for nine Districts, not eleven.
“I’m a little worried about what that’s going to do to our candidate pool,” McClendon said.
McClendon also expressed concerns that a change of school districts would result in confusion among parents about who they are supposed to call when there is a problem.
McClendon also asked if it would be possible for the school redistricting to mirror the school zoning as opposed to mirroring the commission districts.
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District 9 Commissioner and former School Board Member Steve Highlander said, “One thing I would be concerned about with mirroring school zoning is they’re fluid. Those school zones are going to be changing and fluid as the population shifts.”
McClendon also stated that if Hamilton County shifted to an eleven-district format, they would be the only ones that have done so out of Tennessee’s largest school districts.
District 1 School Board Member Rhonda Thurman suggested that the School Board stick with the nine-district setup, not mirroring the Commission, citing how differently the Commission and School Board Members operate.
In addition, Thurman stated that, due to population shifts and so forth, the school districts will need to be redrawn regardless, with the implication being that if the process is done by the School Board itself when appropriate, the needs of the individuals within the districts will be better met.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com