UnifiEd commends Hamilton County Department of Education’s new leadership team on its quick work to develop a plan for the $100 million recently granted by the county for capital projects. We appreciate that the plan integrates the priority projects previously identified by the Board of Education and incorporates many of the recommendations of the budget working group report about increased efficiency as a source of cost savings.

We are also pleased to see that the plan takes steps toward reassessing zoning and school usage while calling for a full assessment of capital needs to inform a seven-to-10-year strategic capital plan. In the capital plan adopted by the school board last month, the Department of Education outlined three essential next steps that UnifiEd fully supports — community meetings for affected schools, reassessment of zoning lines and development of a long-term strategic capital plan with an external consultant.

It is clear that given the vast and diverse needs across our community and schools, there must be a community-driven, equitable, and fully funded approach to capital needs in the school system.

That’s why we urge the district to take the following specific actions to make these critical goals become concrete reality.

Outreach and community engagement:
Opportunities for the community to engage with the district in decision-making should be accessible and structured. Access means that the opportunities are promoted across multiple media and communication channels to ensure exposure to many audiences. Structure means community members should have a defined platform for voicing their specific concerns and raising issues not pre-identified by the district. In-person meetings should be interactive and facilitated by a third party, while surveys can draw wider participation to prioritize issues.

Strategic planning:
The current capital plan approved by the school board was not on the meeting’s public agenda, and the report provides few details about the actual investment planned for each affected school. In the future, when plans are shared with the public, there should be accessible and easily understandable information about how estimates and figures were established.

Inclusive decision-making:
To develop and implement better policies that reflect the diverse interests in Hamilton County, we urge the district to develop a community engagement plan that ensures all future initiatives and strategic plans have a focus on equity, inclusion, and shared decision-making.

Future efforts to address potential zoning solutions should include controlled family choice, a commitment to equity, and the elimination of schools with concentrated populations of students living in poverty.

Transparent and accessible information:
All future plans should be comprehensive, easy to understand, and open for community review in advance of decision making.

Our community’s values should be reflected in decisions on how resources are allocated across our schools, and this community has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of background, have the opportunity to succeed.

We urge our community, elected officials and the school system to consider the importance of a community-driven, equitable and fully funded approach to capital management in our schools. We can easily identify need, but it is much more difficult to build solutions to those needs that are fair to each child and representative of this community’s values. However, these are the factors that will make systemic changes both effective and sustainable in the success of our school system.


This editorial was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 5, 2017 and signed by UnifiEd Executive Director Jonas Barriere. See the original here >