WCS school board opposes proposed state legislation
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
The county school board took a stance against proposed state legislation that they believe could adversely affect the Williamson County Schools district at their work session Thursday.
With hundreds of education bills circulating on Capitol Hill, the WCS board will vote Monday at their board meeting to formally oppose a few of those bills that would relinquish local budgeting control of school boards across the state.
The body is opposed to one such bill, SB 1935, if passed, would grant local funding bodies line item budget authority over local school boards – specifically board of education services, the office of the superintendent, the office of the principal, and human resources support services.
The Williamson County Commission funds the WCS district but is prohibited from deciding how the district spends those funds. The law has stated such for centuries across Tennessee WCS Atty. Bill Squires said.
“This a change of something that goes back 100 years. This is a huge change from a legal perspective,” Squires said.
However, with the proposed legislation, the commission would be allowed veto power over line items within the school budget.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney says that it seems that “school districts in Tennessee are adamantly opposed to this.”
Also, proposed Senate Bill 2525, specifically grants local funding bodies budget line item power over school boards hiring lobbyists. The proposed legislation comes on the heels of Looney hiring two lobbyists last spring to fight against some proposed state legislation and to lobby for new legislation such as the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act, which ultimately passed. The lobbyists, only hired for legislative sessions last year, no longer work for the district.
The approval of the Act composed by Looney and Squires, served as a landmark victory for high performing districts across the state, giving them power to hire teachers through a quicker budget line item process and bypass much “red tape."
However, if local funding bodies are given budget line item authority, it could possibly conflict with the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act Looney said.
“Other boards have access to lobbyists through TSBA [Tennessee School Boards Association of which the district is not a member]. We don’t even have representation on the Hill,” Squires added.
In January, the board devised a legislative committee composed of board members Cherie Hammond, District 6, Tim McLaughlin, District 4, and Bobby Hullett, District 7, who are charged with keeping the board informed about current legislation on Capitol Hill. The newly formed committee will report information to the board about proposed laws that could affect the district.
In the drafted opposing resolution, the board states that the body currently “enjoys a good and healthy working relationship with its local funding body …” and that the current law “serves the educational system well, “ by helping to ensure that educational funding is used for its highest good.
During discussions, some board members voiced their concern over proposed resolutions that would set policies for local school boards.
Proposed resolution, SB 1776, would require school districts to appoint textbook review committees, which some board members agreed “usurped” their existing textbook review policies.
Board members such as Hammond, District 6, and P.J. Mezera, District 3, strenuously emphasized that they care about the content of the textbooks and the opinions of parents, but oppose how the current bill is written.
“I am about local control. I don’t support more local authority by the state,” Mezera said.
Although Squires continues to work on the drafts of the resolutions opposing the proposed legislation, the board will vote on final drafts at their board meeting on Monday.
Posted on: 2/14/2014