Safety issues eyed by schools, legislators
by JOYANNA WEBER and DELANEY WALKER, Banner Staff Writers
Feb 22, 2013 | 1142 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
School safety was a major topic of discussion between local public school boards and state legislators during the annual Tennessee School Board Association Day on the Hill Wednesday.

Six Bradley County Schools members and two from Cleveland City Schools attended the TSBA breakfast meeting on upcoming legislation.

Bradley County Schools Chairman Charlie Rose said the legislation introduced by Rep. Eric Watson about certain employees with special training having concealed weapons on school campuses will probably be one of the most talked-about pieces of educational legislation this session. The chairman said in his opinion “he’s tried to cover most of the bases in his bill in letting the local systems decide” if they want to have employees carrying concealed guns.

City school board member Dawn Robinson said the legislators are caught in the middle because Cleveland schools signed a resolution saying the city system wanted guns only in the hands of SROs. If the bill passes, then teachers with guns must undergo 40 hours of training, whereas an SRO undergoes 15 weeks of training before they are placed in a school.

The TSBA is not in favor of non-SRO personnel having weapons in schools.

The day began with a breakfast hosted by TSBA.

Representing Bradley County Schools in these meeting were Nicholas Lillios, Chris Turner, Rose, Troy Weathers, Vicki Beaty and Christy Critchfield. Representing Cleveland City Schools were Robinson and Peggy Pesterfield. Scheduling conflicts prevented more city school board members from attending.

After the breakfast meeting, where several legislators stopped by, many of the board members went to the Capitol building to talk with their representatives and senators about specific legislation.

“With new district lines we have more folks representing us here in Bradley County than ever before and I believe it is to our advantage. We had very candid discussions with (Rep. Kevin) Brooks, (Sen. Todd) Gardenhire, (Rep. Eric) Watson and (Sen. Mike) Bell,” Lillios said. “It was amazing to see how busy these guys were and how many committee meetings and office visits they had on their schedule for just the one day we were there. I was equally amazed that with no prior appointment, they made time in their schedule for us and gave us all the time necessary to talk about our schools, staff and children.”

This was the new school board member’s first time attending the event.

“The most important part of the whole thing (was) getting to know your representatives personally, and that was an experience for many of us this year because Gardenhire is new,” Rose said.

Pesterfield said she has been on the board since 2005 and has attended TSBA Day on the Hill every year.

"It gives us a good opportunity to speak with our legislators. It allows us to say what we are concerned about while better understanding their positions. They can explain and you can question their stances. It leads to good discussion," Pesterfield said.

Robinson said the event also gives school board members a chance to meet other board members from around the state.

"It is a great process we have as citizens to go and give our two cents. We can be passionate about what we believe in," Robinson said. "They (the legislators) may not be able to do what we want, but it is still a great freedom.”

Cleveland City Schools board members said focus remained on school vouchers, charter schools, guns in schools and budget for safety improvements and technology throughout the day.

Cleveland City Schools board members were able to meet with Brooks and Bell. Watson was unavailable when they stopped by his office.

"It is a great opportunity to talk to some of the education committee members. They are the people you want to talk to about these bills," Robinson said.

Pending legislation on school vouchers would allow students the bottom 5 percent of poor performing schools to receive scholarships to attend private schools.

“Our board has not addressed that as a whole,” Rose said. “And my personal opinion is we won’t until the law is passed.”

“One item we pointed out was that not every stance that state organizations take for schools is shared by our local board. There are many bills being addressed in Nashville that simply do not apply to us but are rather intended for the larger metro areas in Tennessee. Many of Gov. Haslam’s plans involving vouchers and charter schools are directed toward these areas and are not current issues for Bradley County,” Lillios said.

Virtual school legislation was also a topic of discussion. The pending legislation would limit school systems to only accepting students zoned in its system unless there is an agreement with another school system.

Rose said the legislation is being considered because there is concern virtual schools may take students away from other school districts

“The way we are set up in Bradley County in the way it was implemented ... most of our people are local,” Rose said. “We wanted to serve our people.”

Many were public school students, some were former home-schooled students.

Pesterfield said she sees the need for virtual schools in certain situations, but feels they need to be held accountable to the same testing regimen expected of public schools.

“Senator Bell was able to meet with both the Cleveland City Board members, Athens City (director), and Bradley County (board members) all at the same time. We had a terrific roundtable discussion that involved families' right to choose the form of education that suited their children best, whether it was public schooling, home schooling or private schooling,” Lillios said.

Board members said the legislators are always receptive and work to answer their questions.