Tenn. county shuts schools in step toward decentralization

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On a page scarred by show prep notes, this clipping from Chattanooga Times Free Press tells of Clay County’s closing public schools for a month while those in Alcoa, Tenn., get a new facility. Schools look like prisons, but this one has aliens landing a flying saucer on its pate. (Photo David Tulis)

On a page scarred by show prep notes, this clipping from Chattanooga Times Free Press tells of Clay County’s closing public schools for a month while those in Alcoa, Tenn., get a new facility. Schools look like prisons, but this one has aliens landing a flying saucer on its pate. (Photo David Tulis)

By David Tulis

The future of public schooling is weak on many fronts. Its prospect as a cartel is limited by myriad marketplace options and an increasingly unwillingness of the American public to afford them.

Affording public school is something that Clay County in Tennessee has decided it can no longer do. The financially weakened county in the northern part of the state has canceled the factory school until officials can improve their revenues.

The school board decided Oct. 8 that it could no longer pay for three schools and its bulky support apparatus. A lawsuit filed by parents says the schools should be reopened because closure denies students a constitutional right to equal protection of the law because students in other districts would continue to receive the free service.

Stiff taxes amid poverty

“This is a poor, rural county and we already have the seventh-highest property tax rate in the whole state of Tennessee,” Clay County Director of Schools Jerry Strong says, “Our property taxes, they’re high enough.”

“Clay County’s inability to generate the revenue to offset the mandates is what’s caused this to come to a head,” he said, according to a report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was really the Affordable Care Act for us and it has made it very difficult for us to have our employees properly covered and meet the mandates of the law. That was going to require new revenue and the commission felt like they couldn’t do that through a tax increase.”

The county commission refuses to raise property taxes, and a proposed wheel tax increase vote is set for March.

For a county to run a school district under Article 11, section 12, of the state constitution, it has to offer 180 days of instruction a year. That’s too many days for its financial capacity. The “constitution manifests the intention of the people that the education of the children through a system of common schools should be a state purpose” (Board of Educ. v. Shelby County, 155 Tenn. 212, 292 S.W. 462 [1927]), a system in any one county or city is in no way compulsory and might be closed at any time — even permanently.

Not an idea arrived at without a struggle.

County Commissioner Parrish Wright reflects the unthinking presupposition of Americans about public schools. They are necessary, though no one remembers their rationale — the high theory of John Dewey in the 1920s and 1930s about the state’s creating a new model citizen for the coming progressive and democratic collective.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people.” With no schools to babysit, parents will have to find childcare or to stay home from their employment. “Either way it goes, Clay County has lost. Nobody’s won.”

County mayor Dale Reagan is also apocalyptic. “Lord be our helper. We’re going to do all we can to come up with a compromise to see that don’t happen.”

Mr. Strong said he had hoped school will resume in November for the district’s 1,150 students. But in light of the litigation he will direct reopening  the week of Oct. 26 after fall break.

A picture of future

Certainly one can overplay this report in a single county among Tennessee’s 95 counties. But elected officials are registering resistance among voters to more taxes to a business that operates solely upon tax subsidies and does little to satisfy the erstwhile customers — the parents.

Public schools operate on the false claim that knowledge and information are rare and elusive and can be obtained only in capital- and labor-intensive central platforms known as schools. School systems are a jobs program for unionized pedagogues who serve the state directly, and parents only obliquely, and only when they can sneak something valuable around the state/national curriculum. The state-centered system is doomed as a business model, even though it was intended to “encourage, foster and cherish literature and science.” It is facing wreckage as a public works project that taxpayers suspect they cannot further afford, especially if a financial day of reckoning and pressure toward decentralization force themselves upon national economy.

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Sources: Rebecca Reynolds Yonker, “Small Tennessee school  district closes because of financial woes,” Chattanooga Times  Free Press, Oct. 10, 2015

Forrest Sanders, “Budget issues could force school system to close early,” WSMV TV, wsmv.com, July 27, 2015

 

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