Depending upon whom you ask, the Chattanooga-based UnifiEd is either a harmless political group with no real clout or it’s one of Tennessee’s most far-left and dangerous organizations.
Many people in Hamilton County believe UnifiEd members orchestrated a proposal to add 350 new positions to the county school system, at a cost of $34 million, and at taxpayer expense. As reported, many of those proposed positions are for social workers and new administrators.
Most school board members voted for the plan, but county commissioners have the final say approving it. If they do so, they may have to raise property taxes.
County Commissioner Tim Boyd told The Tennessee Star this week he doesn’t underestimate UnifiEd, nor will he take any chances on the threat he says members pose.
“UnifiEd has a political agenda, and it is not to improve education in Hamilton County. It is to turn Hamilton County from bright red (politically) to dark blue,” Boyd said, adding he’s spent a lot of one-on-one time with UnifiEd members, and he knows them well.
No one at UnifiEd’s Chattanooga office returned repeated requests for comment Friday.
“The GOP locally keeps ignoring me screaming and hollering about them,” Boyd said about UnifiEd.
“Did Unified have any influence on the current proposal (to add 350 news positions)? Of course they did.”
County Commissioner Rhonda Thurman, meanwhile, said she also believes UnifiEd members are politically liberal.
School Board member Kathy Lennon, who favors adding new employees, told The Star that UnifiEd members aren’t the boogeyman Boyd, Thurman and so many other people make out.
“They don’t have any influence,” Lennon said.
“They support our budget. They are just an advocacy group.”
School Board member Joe Wingate, who also wants money for more school employees, said UnifiEd “is a political action group that disguises itself as an education advocacy group.”
“They are there, and they attempt to interject themselves into politics under the veil of being a group that wants to advocate for education,” Wingate said.
“It is hilarious to me that they get the press and the ink and the attention they do because they have zero influence on our school administration. They have zero influence on our school board. The only reason they get any attention is because people give them attention and call their name. It’s funny to me that folks can’t figure out if you quit talking about them then they don’t have a platform. They are irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned, in our county.”
On their Facebook page, UnifiEd members thanked Wingate, Lennon and certain other board members for voting in favor of the $34 million plan, which they called bold.
Jonas Barriere is UnifiEd’s executive director, according to the group’s website.
According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Barriere previously worked in politics and was a community organizer.
“Barriere worked with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers’ unions in the country,” according to The Times Free Press.
As The Star reported in March, members of UnifiEd promised their group would not endorse candidates. In 2017, however, group members group reneged on their promise and created the UnifiEd Action PAC to reform education by lobbying and endorsing candidates.
– – –
Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Tim Boyd” by Tim Boyd. Photo “Rhonda Thurman” by Hamilton County Schools. Background Photo “UnifiEd” by UnifiEd.