Wheel Tax failure doesn't 'brake' Bradley Schools' growing pains - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Wheel Tax failure doesn't 'brake' Bradley Schools' growing pains

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BRADLEY COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- The day before classes resume, teachers, school board members and Bradley County Commissioners are getting the cooks' tour as to how Walker Valley High will split into four learning academies, under one roof.

"We wanted to take the big school, and personalize it more," Principal Danny Coggin says.

Freshmen will have their own learning community. Upperclassmen may choose to specialize in either Business, Humanities, or STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

"And be taught by teachers in that particular mindset," Coggin says. "So that teachers can grow, students can grow."

But voters' rejection of a wheel tax means the building itself can't grow. Walker Valley was designed for 1,200 students.

"We've been running 1,500 for the last two years," Coggin says, "and we're struggling. But we're gonna make it work."

The District has no choice. Administrators guesstimate that all but one Bradley County School will be at capacity or crowded Tuesday. The issue isn't only the size of the building, but the rules governing Tennessee BEP (Basic Education Program) money, which limit class sizes.

Wheel Tax opponents remain unswayed.

"If classrooms were a priority, then why build a $3.5 million theatre right now," Rodney West asks. "They would have built those classrooms!"

West calls Bradley Central High's Fine Arts building a classic misuse of Other People's Money; the taxpayers'.

"It's absolutely the priorities," he says. "They're saying trailers and modular classrooms are out of the question? No! We're going to have to make do with what we've got until new revenues come in."

"The Fine Arts building did provide additional classroom space at Bradley Central," Schools Director Johnny McDaniel responds.

The Wheel Tax would have levied a $32 fee to register a motor vehicle in Bradley County. Motorcycle registration would cost an additional $16. Senior citizens would have been exempt had their income qualified for a property tax freeze.

County Commissioners estimated the tax would have generated about $3.17 million per year; enough to finance bonds that would have added classroom wings at Walker Valley High and Lake Forest Middle School, built a new Blue Spring Elementary to replace the building heavily damaged in the April 27 tornado, and built a north side elementary school in the Cleveland City District.

McDaniel believes its failure slams the brakes on planning; or worse, throws it into reverse.

"Where our lack of funding really shows up is in our inability to be proactive in our capital project needs," he says. "The needs won't go away, they'll keep growing. But we can't head off problems before they occur."

Coggin and Walker Valley's faculty understand "making do."

"We've had floating teachers for quite awhile," Coggin says.

"But that's okay. And the reason I say that it's okay is our teachers understand that that has to happen in order to get the job done for our kids."

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