Busy week for schools includes magazine rankings, budget cuts and Capitol Hill reprieve
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
On the heels of the first hearing April 8 when commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the Williamson County Schools district’s seemingly hefty budget proposal for the 2013-14 school year, the County Commission Education Committee found ways to shave off costs despite Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney’s insistence that the district’s budget proposal represents needs – free of superfluous requests.
The committee passed Commissioner Brandon Ryan’s, District 11, proposed amendment to cut the WCS 2013-14 Operating Budget from $260.6 million to “$258 million even” April 22.
If the amended budget passes through the county budget committee as well as the full commission, the school board will have to trim the already lean budget by about $2.6 million.
“It’s a priority of mine as a commissioner not to have a tax increase. And the jury is still out as to whether that’s going to happen if we fully fund the budget,” Ryan said. “I think we can educate the children of Williamson County on a quarter of a billion dollars.”
Ryan’s approved cut for the WCS budget was not the only one Monday night. The committee also approved CCEC Chairman Doug Langston’s, District 12, proposed amendment to slice capital funds from $7 million to $4 million, which primarily includes maintenance and technology needs for the district.
‘U.S. News & World Report’ gives WCS high marks
Of WCS’s eight high schools, five received gold, silver or bronze medals in “U.S. News's Best High Schools” rankings in U.S. News & World Report magazine.
The magazine awarded Brentwood High School a “Gold Medal,” and ranked it 227th in the nation and fourth in the state. Ravenwood High School as also awarded a Gold Medal and ranked 474 in the nation and fifth in the state.
In state rankings, Franklin High came in eighth, Page High School 15th and Independence High is 17th.
“We strive to provide quality education for all students,” Dr. Pam Vaden said, principal of RHS. “This ranking uses a formula that includes growth and achievement on the EOC assessments for students in Algebra I, English II and the number of seniors who took and passed an AP Exam before or during their senior year. The credit goes to the teachers of those courses, who work collaboratively and love what they are doing."
High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act marks victory
The end of the legislative sessions on Capitol Hill marks victories for the Williamson County Schools District.
High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act, conceived by Looney and WCS Attorney Bill Squires, passed through the Tennessee House and Senate, providing relief from obstacles encountered by Looney while running a high-achieving school district.
The bill allows the district to bypass the 36-day process of hiring new teachers through the county commission for example. It will also allow the board to transfer money between categories for student nutrition and appeal modifications for the teacher evaluation process every three years instead of annually.
“I am elated that the bill passed,” Looney said. “It makes the lives of professionals easier and cuts out the red tape.”
“This bill will provide regulatory relief to schools who perform well. If you have certain metrics, you shouldn’t have to worry about regulatory issues,” said Senator Jack Johnson who served as Senate sponsor for the bill.
Voucher, charter school bills die
Earlier this month, Looney and the board were relieved when Gov. Bill Haslam pulled a voucher bill that would allow students to use public school funds to attend private schools and when a charter school authorizer bill died on the legislative floor.
The WCS Board of Education opposed the bills in Williamson County because the body believed that it would negatively impact existing students due to the loss of district dollars to fund private school tuition and charter schools.
Williamson County was eventually eliminated from the charter authorizer bill when it was amended, only affecting districts with schools in the bottom five percent in the state.
Looney argued that the quality of schools in the county could decrease over time if charters and vouchers were implemented which could, in turn. negatively affect home prices.
The purpose of vouchers and charter schools, Looney said originated in low-performing school districts for the purpose of promoting competition to raise the bar, which did not make sense in Williamson County.
“I think that the board’s reaction and their resolutions in support of local control were well-timed,” Looney said.
Safe Havens Report strengthens safety plans
Although Tennessee law will not allow WCS to release a report recently provided by Safe Havens International, a campus-safety consultant due to safety reasons, Looney shared some highlights.
“The highlight of the report is that safety begins with employees and parents,” Looney said.
The district plans to provide ongoing training for faculty and staff on threat management, to strengthen safety procedures when visitors enter the building and to work on infrastructure to ensure that all school access points are safe. Such measures as checking parent and visitor IDs and requiring visitors to sign-in and out of the school building will be enforced.
“We will also focus on providing safety for students and visitors during extracurricular activities,” said Looney.
A team from Safe Havens, led by executive director Michael Dorn, conducted individual assessments of the 42 schools that comprise WCS and the eight of the FSSD in February.
Posted on: 4/24/2013