Signal Council To Hear Report On Breaking Away From County Schools Before Delving Into Building Costs

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - by Gail Perry

The Signal Mountain Town Council meeting Monday night was centered on the subject of breaking away from the Hamilton County school system. The council room was filled with citizens who had been at the question and answer session with Hamilton County officials last Thursday night, where from the county’s perspective, only drawbacks were noted.


Cost of the buildings and the legal fees that would be incurred in the attempt to transfer ownership of the existing schools or to rebuild them were big concerns for several people, including Councilman Dan Landrum who asked for those expenses to be included in the school system viability committee’s proposed budget.

The amount spent for building each school plus the amount of yearly maintenance was given at the meeting with Hamilton County, but no price was put on the real estate because the county said the buildings are not for sale.


The plan would retain ownership of all the schools and keep them open for students in the county outside of the city limits of the Town of Signal Mountain. A transfer of ownership of Signal Mountain Middle/High School would require approval from the four entities that were involved with the interlocal agreement when it was built in 2004. Town Attorney Phil Noblett said Monday night that one of the four should not make the decision for all and that the attorney who gave the legal opinion was doing his job in representing his client, Hamilton County Schools.


The council declined to pass a resolution proposed by Councilman Landrum to request for the cost of the facilities to be included in the final budget proposal from the SSVC. Establishing a cost estimate would require finding comparable examples, taking time away from other projects that the city manager is dealing with. And, Mayor Chris Howley said it may be a waste of time because once the report comes out, the issue may not move forward. He said that the report must meet three criteria - improve the quality of education, include all residents of the mountain community, not just the town, and be financially viable. The majority of the council voted to review the completed SSVC report, which is due in three weeks, before dealing with the issue of buildings.


One citizen at the meeting said that, although she is against forming a new district, the good work done by the committee has accomplished getting a conversation started about improving education and has gotten the attention of Hamilton County Schools.


The study was undertaken to begin with, said Mayor Howley, because alarming trends have been emerging. Donations to the Mountain Education Fund have dropped 20 percent and the county is asking the town to contribute more than the fund supplies. That means that choices will have to be made and, if cuts are made, will the schools still be as good as they are now? He said statistics on the Hamilton County Schools website, show that students in the county are below grade level in all but one category out of 12. He said that what shocked him the most is that at Signal Mountain, with the best schools in the system; only four categories are at or above grade level statewide. At the meeting with the county, Mayor Howley said he did not hear anyone give any ideas for improving the schools.


In regular business, the council voted to approve a 20-year loan agreement in the amount not to exceed $3 million to finance the land acquisition, construction and equipment for a new fire station, including a pumper truck for up to $551,439 and other vehicles. This resolution will be advertised and will be effective if 10 percent of the registered voters do not petition against it within 20 days.


Resolutions were also approved for purchasing 12 mobile tablet computers for $47,061 and spending $12,996 for 12 routers, antennas and security software for the computers, to be used by the police department.


The council authorized applying for the TML risk management pool “driver safety” matching grant that would pay for drivers license checks for town employees and to offset some of the cost of GPS units. An application will also be made for the 2018 TDOT transportation alternative grant that if received would be used to build sidewalks. It is an 80 percent grant, and would provide the town with $300,000 with a match of $60,000. Another resolution passed that recognized Oct. 18 as Arbor Day within the Town of Signal Mountain.


Ethan Fell, a Boy Scout with Troop 116, presented his Eagle Scout project to the council Monday night. He is in the process of raising money to build a crosswalk at the intersection of Sam Powell Drive and Shackleford Ridge Road leading to Nolan Elementary School. The purpose is increasing safety. He has worked with City Manager Boyd Veal to get in contact with contractors and has already raised $1,150 of the $5,000 total that will be needed. He also has received a commitment from the Dogwood community to pay one third of the cost. The Scout said he is now opening the project up to contributions and will set up a Go-Fund Me account.






Plan by Boy Scout Ethan Fell for building crosswalk near Nolan Elementary School
Plan by Boy Scout Ethan Fell for building crosswalk near Nolan Elementary School

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