Hamilton County school board candidates disagree on books, but not much else in District 10


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The three candidates vying for the District 10 seat on the Hamilton County School Board agreed on most issues in a debate Wednesday night, except for one sensitive topic: who controls what students read. students ?

Independent Christine Essex of Ooltewah, Republican Faye Robinson of Ooltewah and Democrat Jeff Crim of Chattanooga squared off in the second of a series of debates sponsored by Chattanooga 2.0, the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Local 3 News.

The candidate who wins the August 4 general election will represent Apison, Ooltewah, Silverdale, Collegedale, Summit, Ooltewah, Georgetown and Savannah Bay, including the following schools: Ooltewah Elementary, Ooltewah High, Ooltewah Middle and Wolftever Creek Elementary.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about the topics covered in the debate:

Partisan campaigns

This year marks the first in Tennesee where school board candidates are running on partisan tickets, fueling fears that politics will overshadow the educational needs of students in an already divided country. But all three candidates said partisan politics will not influence their conduct as board members.

Essex said she was running as an independent, but was actually a conservative Christian Republican. She said that after she filed her paperwork to run as a Republican with the Hamilton County Election Commission, the Hamilton County GOP called her and told her she couldn’t run on a Republican ticket due to certain regulations, which she did not specify.

Still, she says, that won’t change the way she would approach her school board duties.

Crim agreed.

“I’m a conservative but I will vote according to my constituents,” Robinson said.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County School Board candidates clash over fairness and books in District 8)

School harassment

The Times Free Press previously reported that certain types of bullying, namely racial bullying, had increased in Hamilton County schools.

“Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I want to be a bully today,'” Crim said. “Bullying happens because students’ pain and trauma show up sideways, and they pick on their peers.”

Crim has suggested a possible solution is to focus on social-emotional learning, but this has been reviled in recent months.

“Why would we cut something out of our curriculum that teaches students how to deal with feelings, how to deal with trauma, how to deal with pain?” Crim said.

Essex said the issue of bullying affected her, as her daughter had been bullied and assaulted by other students. She said she had filed a petition with the school board hoping to change the policy on bullying.

“I think there has to be some punishment,” Essex said. “I believe bullies need to be held accountable for their actions.”

Robinson said everyone – teachers, parents and principals – must be part of the solution and follow the same procedure when bullying occurs.

Retain quality teachers

Across the country, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, commonly known as the “teacher exodus,” and districts across the country are looking for ways to retain and attract new teachers. One such tactic is to raise wages. Hamilton County teachers will see a 3% increase this year.

But in addition to pay, Essex and Robinson agreed that the teachers were leaving because the children were undisciplined.

“I’m actually friends with a couple of teachers who quit, and it’s not really the pay they’re concerned about, it’s the behavior of the kids,” Essex said.

Robinson said the behavior problem was serious and the teachers themselves were being bullied.

Crim said he thought teachers were leaving because they weren’t respected as professionals

“The very first thing we need to do as school board members is to respect teachers as highly trained professionals,” Crim said.

Infrastructure

Hamilton County schools face nearly $1 billion in delayed building repairs, and the new board will have to make tough decisions going forward.

Robinson said infrastructure is a security issue.

“You just need to assess your greatest need for child safety and put your resources into it,” Robinson said. “You cannot allow students or teachers to enter a school that is unsafe.”

Essex agreed with Robinson, saying the buildings needed to be repaired to keep students and teachers safe.

Crim said his experience working in nonprofits has trained him to use scarce resources effectively, in this case money for capital improvements.

“We’re going to have to listen to building engineers and those kinds of people, but then the school board will have to prioritize allocating financial and human resources to deferred maintenance,” Crim said.

Book bans

Hamilton County Schools had a committee that recently reviewed the selection and objection processes to reading materials. Some parents have complained about the content of books dealing with themes related to LGBTQ issues, gender or race.

Crim said he trusts the discretion of teachers and librarians to select age-appropriate materials.

“We require teachers to attend many schools to become professional educators,” Crim said. “And while I would be the first to say that parents should have a say in education, I think more often than not we have to step back and let the teachers and administrators (be the professionals) that we have required that they go to school to become.”

Robinson disagreed.

“I certainly believe that parents have a say in what their children see in the library. Movies are rated by age, why shouldn’t books be rated by age?” said Robinson.

Essex said she believes certain books should not be in schools.

“I think it’s the parents’ right to decide whether or not these books should be in our schools,” Essex said.

Crim asked Essex to name which books it thinks shouldn’t be in schools that currently are. She said she didn’t know the specific titles.

Hillsdale controversy

Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College and one of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s advisers, was filmed making remarks about teachers while the governor stood silent. Specifically, Arnn said teachers are “educated in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.” Lee declined to publicly denounce the statements, drawing heavy criticism from Tennesee educators.

“I would like to tell Governor Lee that many of our state institutions are nationally known for our education training program,” Crim said. “So does that make some of our schools the dumbest colleges? I’d like to say to Governor Lee that as a Tennesseeian, I’m ashamed that he sat in the same room as anybody. ‘one who made statements like that and didn’t refute them,” Crim said.

Robinson said that although she is a Republican, she is appalled by Arnn’s statement.

“I would ask Governor Lee why he took so long to oppose the statement, not stand up for teachers,” Robinson said.

Essex said she was sad and upset. Lee did not denounce Arnn’s remarks.

“Our teachers are feeling a lot of pressure right now,” Essex said. “I’ve spoken to several and they don’t feel like they’re appreciated.”

School funding

On whether the county should raise taxes to increase the district’s operating budget, all three candidates agreed it was not necessary.

“My first thought is ‘no’ because I understand Tennessee has re-evaluated the formula for schools, Tennessee Investment, and I think I definitely want to see how that plays out,” Robinson said.

Crim said he would not advocate raising taxes.

“Right now we raise money through property tax and primarily through sales tax, and those are two regressive taxes that unfairly penalize people at the bottom of the economy,” Crim said. “I think one of our former superintendents was right when he said we needed to look at the equity that we had locked up in the property. It’s a place where we could find short-term operating funds. “

Essex also stepped in.

“I think we have to find the money and come up with different programs,” Essex said.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at [email protected] or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.



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