By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Hamilton County School Board members passed a 2010-11 budget of $312 million Wednesday afternoon, a month later than usual.  The vote was 5-4, with Chester Bankston, Kenny Smith, Rhonda Thurman and Everett Fairchild voting "no."  They said they had not had enough time to study the budget.  A revised budget had been presented to Board members at the meeting.

By a separate 6-3 vote, Board members turned down a request from Supt. Jim Scales to provide $44,000 in raises to five Central Office Administrators.  Only Jeffrey Wilson, George Ricks and Janice Boydston supported the raises.  Chip Baker "passed" on the first attempt at a vote, and on the second attempt, voted with the majority.

45 teaching positions were cut, while 40 others will be added due to enrollment growth.  Two Central Office positions have been cut, and one of those affected, former Human Resources Director Stacy Stewart has transferred to a principal's position at Red Bank Middle at a similar salary.  Dr. Scales said Ms. Stewart was hired for the principal's job last week.  He said that the job was not posted, and there were no other candidates or interviews for the position.

Ms. Thurman, who represents District 1, led the charge against the raises for the five Central Office administrators.  Dr. Scales had said the five (Alvena Kaufmann, Gloria Moore, Laquesha Ewing, Sheryl Rogers and Nancy Reed) had taken on additional responsibilities after recent budget cuts.  Without mentioning any names, Ms. Thurman said that one of the five had gotten pay hikes totaling more than twenty thousand dollars during the past four years.

District 5 rep Jeffrey Wilson chided Ms. Thurman for bringing up the issue, saying, "You have done everything but call names, and this is not the place to do talk about it.  This is why we have some problems in the community, and it is not the right way to get your point across.  You're dragging people through the mud.  This is why we will have to deal with these issues at the Ethics Committee tomorrow."  Wilson chairs the recently re-formed Ethics Committee, which is dealing with complaints against Ms. Thurman and other Board members from Normal Park parents who have criticized Ms. Thurman's outspoken style.

Wilson is expected to ask the Ethics Committee to require Board members to take a class "on how to deal with people."  Ms. Thurman says all Board members have already taken classes in Nashville, "and this will not stop me from asking questions about where our tax dollars are going.  If public school employees want to keep their job and salary information private, they should go to work in the private sector.  If open meetings are not the place to talk about public schools, where does he want to talk about it, behind closed doors?"

District 9 Board member Chester Bankston questioned Dr. Scales about a Fund for Excellence fund-raising golf tournament, held earlier in the week.  According to Bankston, "75 school district employees played golf all day, and got paid for it.  In the past, they had to take a vacation day, or a personal leave day.  But now we're paying people to play golf?  And what about those folks who actually worked that day?  What are we giving them?"  Bankston said Dr. Scales told him he approved the golf day, because it was a fund-raiser, and there was no further comment.

In an e-mail response to Eyewitness News Thursday afternoon, Dr. Scales' spokesperson Danielle Clark confirmed that the administrators "did not have to report their participation as a leave day."  When asked if administrators who chose to work that day would get a similar free leave day," she replied, "No, participation in the event was their choice."

The Board will present its newly approved budget to the County Commission in the next few days.  Commissioners have said they'll likely approve the plan, which does not require any tax increase.