Before the regularly scheduled school board meeting, the Finance Committee met to discuss different busing options available for Hamilton County in an effort to move forward with a new transportation plan. Christie Jordan, Assistant Superintendent for Finance, gave a presentation of the possible costs associated with moving to an in-house transportation system. According to Jordan’s estimates, if HCDE took over transportation in-house, it could save the district up to 1.9 million dollars a year in transportation costs; however, there would be initial start up costs of about 10 million dollars to purchase used buses for the school system. The other options discussed were to work with current independent bus owners and operators in the county or enter into a contract with another large service provider like Durham.  

The regular session began with recognitions for incredible gifted staff in Special Education. Karen Glenn then gave a report on bullying from the fall school semester. There were 122 confirmed cases of bullying and 122 safely plans provided. Glenn went on to describe some incredible anti-bullying initiatives now taking place including 311 middle school and 286 high school students engaged in school climate leadership trainings. A career and technology update was given to the board sharing student success stories from the partnership with Volkswagen, Mechatronics Academy and the upcoming program Polytechnic Academy.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly, gave an update on iZone schools and highlighted ways in which the school system plans to further support these schools as outlined in the district’s strategic plan. Dr. Kelly and Jill Levine discussed many programs that are currently underway to better support our most vulnerable populations including: earlier recruitment efforts for high needs schools, mentorship programs for new teachers, innovative literacy programs, increased numbers of guidance counselors and behavior specialists, engaging summer school options, and grants for teachers who want to integrate hands on science and art curriculum in the classroom. Dr. Kelly will continue to update the board on iZone strategies at their strategic planning session this weekend.

In the delegation portion of the meeting, Dan Liner asked the board to write a resolution, joining Knox County and Oak Ridge City schools, to publicly state opposition for vouchers, citing that they were a diversion of funding for public education, not adequately oversighted, and allowed for public tax dollars to support a private entity. Kirsten Johnson then spoke on behalf of Harrison Elementary and their need for a new building. She urged the board members to tour the school and prioritize a new building after students and staff became dizzy and ill while working in conditions with high carbon monoxide levels due to inadequate CO2 detectors. Last, Michael Walton spoke to the board, inviting them to a Greenspaces event, focused on reducing utility costs through sustainable energy.

The consent agenda was unanimously approved. Notably, the board approved an agenda item to extend the ABM custodial contract only by 11 months, which will give the board and ABM time to make needed changes and come back with a proposal including increased pay for their employees and adequate supplies necessary to effectively carry out their job. The County Commission Bond Donation of $500,000 to replace Central High School’s track has been postponed pending discussion on county wide facility needs. The agreement for the East Ridge athletic fields contract has also been postponed until discussions can occur between the city and state regarding grant funding. Finally, the board ended the meeting with a continued discussion about transportation and busing. They will call a special session on Saturday, January 21, at 12pm to discuss bus routes, issues concerning independent owners and operators, and take a vote on an RFP for a bus service.