The Hamilton County school board voted to hire a consulting group to help create solutions for integration, a topic that has been discussed over the last few years.

A few weeks ago board members Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith rejected the idea that county schools need to racially and economically integrate. However, on Thursday night their fellow board members voted to move forward with hearing proposals to do just that.

Four months ago, Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson created the equity task force.

This task force wants to bring in the Howard Consulting Group from Washington D.C. to help provide ideas on how to integrate Hamilton County schools.

“Equity looks a whole lot of different ways in a whole lot of different places,” Dr. Johnson said. “For this task force it's about bringing in expertise.”

Rhonda Thurman, who represents district one, says the schools are already integrated. The discussion heated up when Thurman demanded an answer from district 5's Karista Jones.

“Tell us what the inequities are,” Thurman said. “What is the reason why we don't have any equity? Okay, Karista what schools are in Hamilton County a kid can't go to if they want to go?”

Jones fired back saying there are many neighborhoods in her district that need better opportunities.

“Clearly there's a need,” Jones said. “If there was not a need the voices from the community would not be so strong for us to address the situations.”

Jones says she's passionate about this topic because she lived it and she's glad she had exposure to other opportunities. She represents Brainerd High, Tyner Academy and Woodmore Elementary. Jones says those students face a lot.

“Pretty much working class to poverty homes and they're struggling with a lot of things,” Jones said.

Some board members voiced concern over the cost of studying integration. Dr. Johnson says he hopes to get financial support from outside organizations to foot the $290,000 consulting fee so taxpayers won’t have to.

“To me it's a no-brainer if that's the case,” district 3’s Joe Smith said. “What do we have to lose? Because whatever comes out of that we are going to be voting on it anyway.”

The board approved hiring the consulting firm. Thurman was one only opposed vote.

Dr. Johnson says the equity task force is scheduled to meet every week in June so they can present a plan to the board in July and allow board members to vote on the next step in August.

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