Roy Exum: Our Children Will Suffer

Friday, March 17, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Just 48 hours after an enlightening meeting between the Commissioners of Hamilton County and the Department of Education’s School Board, there comes four pages of irrefutable proof that children in our public school system will most certainly suffer during the 2017-20128 fiscal year. That is, unless drastic emergency measures are taken by those who hold the purse strings in a great big hurry.

Earlier this week I wrote that Christie Jordan, the Department of Education Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer, had a ‘blivet’ on her hands – which is what it is called when you try to stuff 10 pounds of anything into a five-pound sack. You can indeed pour a gallon of water into a one-quart Mason jar, but it is the same principle – three-fourths of the gallon will overflow.

A ‘blivet’ cannot overflow – it is ‘stuff’ that breaks the smaller sack and leaves it useless, just as the School Board’s back was broken on Tuesday. Talk about a useless folly! Mayor Jim Coppinger and the County Commissioners implied they would provide no more than “growth money” to the proposed budget, which is believed to be only about a $7.1 million increase. If that actually occurs, it will be simply and plainly catastrophic.

Since Hamilton County’s last tax increase 12 years ago, every department in county government is down to the barest bones and the 42,000 children who attend public schools will now pay a lofty price for grown people’s dereliction of duty. Our elected officials took an oath to serve the people and now comes proof they have not done so.

As the county’s top financial people admitted Tuesday night, there has been no additional funding in the county for over a decade. Is this “real life?” You know it is not. Don’t swallow this hook you have been offered. Please, there has been inflation, plus you know the cost of everything you do has been compounded in the last 12 years. Fault can be passed out like a deck of cards and the guilt quiver over it.

This is fact, and while there has been a surge in happiness and praise for our area, the seated County Commissions have been too gutless to be the good stewards of the needs of the people. Now comes the fact you are either going to face the obvious or show you can’t see the obvious. The voters know the difference. Just you wait until they declare it.

Yes, I have been the schools’ biggest critic. I don’t appreciate four basketball players being sexually abused, one so serious that emergency surgery probably saved his life. I detest willful incompetence in HCDE leadership – still rampant -- and those who seek election only to add an additional $1,000 to their monthly income ….yes, with health insurance.

I see the circumstances that surrounded a fatal bus crash where six innocents died. I am furious that a “good ole boy network” still bullies our teachers, has a political excuse for everything, and is the key reason our school system has become so rotten. Sure, we’ll keep slapping the GOBs, don’t worry. Not long ago I pointed out how rude and improper the greedy from CSLA were at a school board meeting and they took out their wrath on me.

The fact I can write what I feel is important and tell some previous “secrets” that I believe to be true is because public knowledge has righted more wrongs than any courtroom in America. I want the School Board and the County Commission and County Mayor Jim Coppinger in a pressure cooker. Every one of them I deeply respect and truly appreciate but that doesn’t dictate what is the right thing to do. Let’s let the parents (voters, over 80,000, thank you) decide.

The reason I got involved was because one first-year basketball player was impaled by a pool cue and then we found out 42,000 other kids had become so dumbed down. Pay attention: the majority of our third graders can’t read, the majority of our graduates need remedial classes to get into a community college and we can’t provide an educational product to fill the most common jobs. Yeah, that makes me really angry.

But wait, now we have a new “Worst.” In the 15 months I have gone from ‘care less’ to ‘care a lot’ about public education, I reached a new low in my public-ed journey at Thursday night’s monthly School Board meeting. Before the monthly 5:30 report, the finance committee gathered and it wasn’t lost on me that every School Board member was there.

This is how critical this has become. Because the County Commission has yet to tell the School Board how much they will actually allocate to education for 2017-18, it was a glum crowd because – face it – right now there is no money and any answer to any question is moot.

Between the end of the financial struggle and the start of the regular meeting, I approached our “Queen of the Blivet” with a specific request. (Yes, she has heard the word ‘blivet’ all her Southern life but didn’t know what it meant. Now that she does, she freely admits “As a matter of fact, I have several!”)

Last night I asked if it would be at all possible – in the next several days -- for her to make me a short list of what our children would be forced to do without, if, let’s just say, the Country Commission was to approve the budget the schools will submit and then add only $7.1 million in “growth money.” It is obvious to the least of us that this last year has been a total train wreck.

Christie Jordan carries a stack of about five feet of all types of data everywhere she goes. She immediately reached inside a nearby notebook and handed me a very factual list of items that must be added to the school budget. It was four pages, carefully accumulated and meticulously prepared. A “growth” nudge will give our children $7.1 million and Christie’s new “must list” totaled $32,745,478.

But, wait. The school’s “STEP program,” which is all  about incentives and teacher retention, will cost about $2.6 million this fall. Then, with a payroll of over 4,000 there are unavoidable personnel costs every year of about $400,000. “Actually, we’ve got a net of about $4 million,” she explained, “and it won’t make a dent in what we need.” (Simple math: it would take eight ‘$4 millions’ to get the ox out of this ditch.)

“This means our kids foot the bill for the difference,” I told Christie. “Our children have no option,” I said and her reply was chilling. “I know …  we can’t do a thing about it.”

Is that right? There are 42,000 children who want to know and deserve to know. And we can’t do anything about this?

* * *

With a net of approximately $4 million, there is no way the Hamilton County Department of Education, in the fiscal year 2017-18, will be able to fund ….

* -- a new superintendent at $180,000-to-$200,000.

* --Teacher recruitment, retention and incentives, Somewhere between $6.6 million and $11 million. (Note: Nashville’s starting salary for a new teacher is $5,000 more than Hamilton County. Bradley County even pays more.

* -- Over the past eight years, the teachers in Hamilton County have had one pay increase at two percent. To raise teacher’s pay by one percent costs the district $2 million a year. This is wrong, obscene, and embarrassing.

* -- Human Resources recruiter, $10,000.

* -- Five art teachers at schools that have no art at the present time. Materials not included. $300,000.

* -- Engagement fund for hands-on science, art, and computer science, $250,000.

* -- Education and technology support, $3,000,000.

* -- Student technology devices (computers, hand-held, video, mapping, libraries, software, et al, $3,000,000.

* -- Funding additional level books for new teacher literacy. $500,000

* -- 15 new literacy teachers, $900,000.

* -- Instructional resources for 79 school, $1,000,000

* -- Annual school-based telephone expense, $500,000

* -- 30 bus attendants (Behavior on grammar-school buses is horrible, per Woodmore crash), $510,673.

* -- Proposed increase to 20 bus routes by independent drivers, $416,095.

* -- Increased transportation (independents and Durham), $416,095.

* --- Contractual increase for outside janitorial, $200,000.

* -- Establish new polytechnic academy (to meet demands by Wacker, et al), $586,0000.

* -- Charter school enrollment increase, $474,000.

*-- Expanded graduation options, $1,000,000.

* -- Spanish to English conversion specialists, $676,929.

* -- Differentiated Service and support for 16 Priority Schools (in poverty areas), $1,500,000.

* -- Six full-time school nurses, $280,026.

* * *

The actual list is much more extensive but, for the sake of fair play, pluck about $4 million from anywhere in the list above, review what you have left, and then dwell on how you would explain the overages to any two 10-year-olds in pigtails. There is no doubt we are hurting our children.

This isn’t who we are. 42,000 small but clear voices say stop this nonsense.

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