'Growth payments'; should schools save or spend them? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'Growth payments'; should schools save or spend them?

Posted: Updated:

By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter

HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- She signed on, expecting to teach fifth grade. But the sheer number of students has transformed Ashley Coulter into East Brainerd Elementary's sixth first-grade teacher.

There's a learning curve.

"I tried to use this Elmer's Glue and it stuck to everything," she tells Principal Bryan Stewart, "I will never do that again!."

Her school has needed more than glue to keep together a building whose original construction dates to 1912.

"We've had some things in some classrooms ruined because of poor roofs," says Glenda Roy, a second-grade teacher here for 29 years.

East Brainerd was built for 450 students. This year's enrollment tops 670, representing twenty cultures and ten languages. The school zone draws children from several large apartment complexes and neighborhoods composed of single-family homes.

"I think people were going to private school from here and they've heard good things about us, so they're coming back," Roy says.

But East Brainerd hasn't been renovated in fifteen years. Stewart has eight portable classrooms, and the cafeteria serves for two hours' straight.

"Something has to be done," Stewart says. We are at critical mass now."

'Critical mass' takes on a different meaning for Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham.

"We,in no way, shape or form, are trying to take away anything from what you do every day," he told fellow Commissioners during their agenda-setting session Thursday.

Graham wants to set aside the PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of taxes) money that Volkswagen and Amazon are expected to pay Hamilton County in return for the tax breaks it received to set up shop. Such payments are expected to top $6 million this year.

Bricks and mortar are very nice," School Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales told Commissioners Thursday.

"But we need to have teachers, administrators and counselors and other persons on board to make sure we get that."

Dr. Scales and several School Board members maintain that the District has factored the PILOT payments into this year's budget to cover current operating costs.

Board member Rhonda Thurman disagrees.

"I believe there's a lot of places that we can cut, and until we're forced to, we won't.">

Thurman calls the District 'top-heavy',--saying it and commissioners need to rebuild trust in one another.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry wants school board members and county commissioners to try to resolve the issue together.

"We need to meet, very, very soon," he told Commissioners Thursday.

A date has not been set.

Roy believes the over-riding answer is less complicated than her second-grade math lessons.

"They need to keep in mind the future growth and the children we're serving, and that the children have to come first," says Roy, "Our future has to come first."

Powered by Frankly