Roy Exum: We Can’t Attract A Winner

Sunday, March 19, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I once heard a whisper that a good friend of mine, an assistant coach in the SEC, was being considered for a pretty swanky head job. It would have paid him three times more than he was making and there never has been as assistant who doesn’t want to be the head guy. So, I called him, saying I knew the athletic director and the faculty chairman at the school that was open, and that I’d make a call if he wanted. “I really need your help…call up there and tell them to get my name out of the mix!

“In the first place, you can’t win there against the schools they schedule. Ain’t no way. But I need to get my name out of the conversation quick…some other school may think the reason I’m not in play is because they found out I killed somebody, lied on my resume, or something…help me get out of this.”

I did exactly as he asked and, sure enough, neither of the next two coaches the swanky school hired lasted out their contracts. You see how this works? The first thing anybody who takes on a high-profile job wants to know: Have I got a chance to win? Are the resources there to be successful?

That established, I don’t think anybody the Hamilton County School Board may hire as the next superintendent has a chance to win. The cards against success are stacked way too high. Anybody who applies for the job is suspect – they are running from something or else they wouldn’t give the Hamilton County district a sideways glance. Seriously, I’m saying “No way.”

Ask yourself what you would do if you knew…

* --It appears the 2017-18 budget will have a minimum shortfall of about $25 million. A current poll on on whether we should raise taxes to support the schools, as well as our county, shows public education is in horrible disfavor. Our citizens openly scoff at educating children? Granted, the public’s trust in the district and its school board is horrible but how are we going to get back to where we need to be without a public commitment? And how is anybody with a PhD going to come here?

We’ve had 32 symposiums, 18 focus groups, and at least five new non-profits that are dying to help rejuvenate our schools but – what’s this? – show me the money? We could host a hot-air balloon festival with all the experts talking what’s been done thus far but I have seen not one dollar to back up at least a year’s worth of hot air. How is any educator without a PhD going to come here?

* -- Our school buildings, on average are over 40 years old and need an estimated $225 million in repairs. We have no new schools being built and, if the health department doesn’t close two or three immediately over sewers and rats, then put public health next to public education in the basement. Our schools in the north end of the county are bulging so badly the fire marshal is beginning to notice. Oh, I know … let’s ignore it like our Planning Commission has done for at least 10 years and maybe it will just go away. (You see, everybody gets part of the blame but, as far as I can see, nobody is yet part of the solution.)

* -- We have a state record of lawsuits and legal claims against our Department of Education and, while insurance and state reserves will be maxed, the brutal fact of the matter is that not one would have occurred had the school system had the right people in place. Those lawsuits are a direct reflection of what happens when the last three superintendents – with literally no school board oversight -- have left such a mess that compounds year after year. Just wait until some of the testimony is revealed under oath. And the search firm that was hired to bring candidates to the table can’t understand why there are not more applicants—please!

* -- Our academic failures remain at an all-time high. We are the dumbest metro district in the state. The Chattanooga 2.0 initiative revealed a system-wide catastrophe in December 2015, and, because it took several years for it to get so bad, it is only within reason that it will take several years to eradicate the fact over half of our third-graders cannot read.

Most of those now in the fourth grade will never catch up – many teachers say it is highly improbable to even expect it -- and while I laud the academic triumvirate of Jill Levine, Justin Robertson and Zac Brown, let’s remember they’ve been at it only about eight months. We all realize the true correction will take years because the system automatically advances those who are most certainly incapable to the next grade every spring.

That’s why our children are “automatically” dumb. How can you not see that? That’s why we have iZone schools. Sure, poverty, single-parent homes, crime on the streets … it is all part of it … but we have children who go to school and fail to learn. Call any business, religous or medical genius you want and they’ll tell you what I just heard: There is a lack of commitment by the community.

Are you kidding me? Our public school system has had no income – other than “growth” corrections – in a dozen years. Any superintendent candidate who knows that is better off to stay in one of our nation’s Top Most Deadly Cities.

* -- I fully expect several communities within the county to look even harder at breaking away from the HCDE now that the situation has grown increasingly bleak in the last two months. People on Signal Mountain are not going to let the County Commission continue to degrade their schools. Red Bank, Soddy Daisy and the other schools on the Highway 27 corridor would arguably be better off and, with the County Commission’s stance, East Ridge may renew the conversation.

If you can find a candidate for superintendent who wants to fight that loss of revenue when that many students no longer pay into the HCDE coffers, this combined with all of the other reasons just given, anybody who hires somebody this crazy deserves exactly what they’ll get.

I believe that if the county mayor and the County Commission refuse to have an adequate tax hike – especially with our pressing jail dilemma and bare-bones county budget – our public school system will most certainly continue to die. If you don’t move forward, back you go – time never stands still. Money is education’s blood and right now HCDE is so anemic our students’ futures are in danger. We are short-changing every one of them.

Barring any new funding, one suggestion might be to consolidate the city and county governments. Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville have saved millions after taking this recovery and that would free up some money for our children. Then again, I don’t think anybody in Chattanooga can see the forest for the trees. Face it: we just had a city-wide election that cost the taxpayers roughly $150,000 and, with the light turnout, that works out to cost just under $10 per vote. Any city that stupid will probably build more bicycle lanes.

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