Brentwood City Commissioners seem to agree by consensus that a feasibility study for the formation of a Brentwood city school district should be put on the table.
However, no vote has been taken.
After a few parents pleaded for the city to conduct a study to explore forming a city school system, commissioners seemed to agree at the Brentwood City Commission meeting Monday.
Parents made the case that a city school system would ultimately give the city more ownership and control over the funding of its schools.
Last spring, the expansion of Brentwood Middle School and High School was under threat of not being funded by the Williamson County Board of Commissioners. A special meeting held in the BMS cafeteria to discuss the funding issue that some called a “crisis” drew about 500 parents to hear Mayor Rogers Anderson, school board members and county commissioners speak on the subject. At the time, the county commission was trying to juggle the funding of the WCS Operational Budget, the construction of a few new schools and the looming county debt of approximately $530 million.
The funding uncertainty in Brentwood sparked some parents to look for seemingly more reliable and secure funding sources, such as forming a separate Brentwood city school district.
After being approached by parents in his district, Brentwood commissioner Rhea Little was the first commissioner to bring up the suggestion of a feasibility study to the city this year.
Parents speak out
At the Monday meeting, several parents presented their views, during public comments, that the “lack of a long-term finding plan” by the county commission could continue to threaten the future funding of Brentwood schools that ultimately could affect the education of students.
“I remind you that in July, the county commission budget committee decided to cut the schools operating budget by a net $1.9M instead of raising property taxes by $.02,” parent Grady Tabor said.
During the budgeting process, the WCS school board cut $1.9 million in new positions to avoid a tax increase, including two RTI specialist positions, a special education teacher, three guidance counselor positions, one science curriculum specialist, and data processing equipment.
“If someone living outside our area and, sadly, some people living in our area, were to read the school funding headlines, they would think our county had serious financial problems,” Tabor said.
However, Tabor added that is far from the truth.
“According to Forbes last month, Williamson County is now the 7th wealthiest county in the country based on median incomes.”
Tabor argued that with the WCS operating budget growing, the commission’s lack of willingness to raise taxes to fund schools and even questionable debt concerns, he believes a city school system could be more beneficial to Brentwood schools. He even gave the city-owned and funded Brentwood Library as an example, which has one of the best children’s libraries in the world.
“This is why we desire to look at having local control of our schools capital needs, operating budget, and zoning,” Tabor said.
Parent Scott Daniels also spoke of the WCS budget cuts, as directed by the county commission, made to the WCS operating budget this fiscal year, which included the elimination of new positions such as special education, which he said adversely affects instruction in a school building.
"Our school system does a tremendous job of educating our students but it could be better if our county funding body would create a long-term financial plan to meet the capital and operational needs of all Williamson County Schools," Daniels said.
"The same week the County Commission approved the BHS/BMS expansion the County Commission Budget Committee requested a $6 million reduction to the schools operating budget; of which $1.9 million had a direct impact on our kids learning environment."
PTO representative from Ravenwood High School Lisa Franz spoke about her worry that significant costs would continue to be placed upon the backs of PTOs with inadequate school funding.
Franz cited that Crockett Elementary raised about $80,000 for SMART boards, as a technology tool to provide classroom instruction, and even materials to support a computer lab years ago.
“In the wealthiest county in the state of Tennessee and with all of the online technology, an elementary school wouldn’t have a computer lab or typing teachers if the PTOs did not pay for it in 2008-09,” Franz said.
She also said that awards ceremonies for children would not take place without the help of PTO funding.
“PTOS worry that others will more and more look to PTOS for budget shortfalls,” Franz said.
“There will come a point where parents will say no more.”
Parents oppose sales tax increase dedication
The parents also oppose County Mayor Rogers Anderson’s recent proposal that each city in Williamson County dedicate its portion of future sales tax revenue to pay for school debt if a sales tax increase referendum is approved by the county commission. Anderson has been visiting each city presenting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that if such a referendum is approved by county residents, the city’s revenue would go toward funding county school debt.
Commissioners agree study should be done
“Everyone knows where I stand on the feasibility study,” Little said.
Little brought forth the issue during his campaign for re-election in the spring.
“Over the last few months, I have been very impressed, humbled and inspired by parents digging into the material. We have a plethora of information now.”
Commissioner Ken Travis proposed moving the issue forward soon.
“You are a very professional group,” Travis said. “This is a very well thought out plan that has been put together … I think we do need a feasibility study. Let’s talk next meeting about moving this forward.”
Travis also encouraged parents to approach the county commission with their information and numbers, which the parents personally crunched pertaining to county debt and funding.
“Don’t think you gave to stop here in this room,” Travis said.
“There are some good messages that county commissioners need to hear.”
Other commissioners Mark Gorman, Anne Dunn, and Mayor Jill Burgin seemed to agree to pursuing the study. Commissioner Betsy Crossley thanked the parents for trying to find a way to best serve students. Commissioner Regina Smithson was absent.
"I support your efforts in a study to find out what we are talking about when we talk about forming our own school system," Burgin said.