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Lobbyists to defend county schools' autonomy on Capitol Hill

Williamson County School Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney told about 80 parents gathered at Page High School Thursday night that maintaining local control is mission-critical to running the state’s highest-performing school system.

“Right now, there are about 90 education bills in either the [Tennessee] house or senate, and they run the gamut from really far-fetched things to those that make sense,” he said, speaking at the second “Let’s Talk Schools” forum in two days. “We don’t need the federal government – and, frankly, the state government – telling us how to run our schools.”

The Williamson County Board of Education passed seven resolutions Feb. 18 regarding specific bills being considered by Tennessee lawmakers – five of which it opposes, two of which it supports. In the same meeting, the body approved $30,000 for Looney to hire two lobbyists to help sway lawmakers’ votes.

“I’m bending not only [our district’s] legislators’ ears, but those of other legislators in Nashville,” he said.

Looney, who has visited the state capitol several times this legislative session, outlined three goals he hopes the lobbyists will help him accomplish: Maintain local control of county schools, pursue autonomy with accountability, and protect progress.

“I go to [Capitol Hill] and testify before various committees as to why we support or don’t support specific legislation,” he said.

State lawmakers are considering several bills that could affect whether a charter school program will be implemented in Williamson County. Charter schools are public schools that generally operate with greater financial autonomy and bureaucratic governance than their traditional counterparts. They are often strong draws in districts with poor-performance records. Looney, whose budget would be cut for each student who opts out of WCS to attend a charter school, said such a program might have difficulty finding success in Williamson County.

“The school board’s official position on charter schools is that it should be a local decision,” he said. “My position is, frankly, that they have a very uphill battle in Williamson County, because we’re already at the top rung.”

Posted on: 2/21/2013


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