School board gives Looney $30k for lobbyists
By Skip Anderson, Managing Editor
The Williamson County Board of Education gave Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney $30,000 and a green light last night to hire two lobbyists to sway votes at the Tennessee State Legislature on bills pertaining public schools.
“Many of our partner schools have partners who work on their behalf on the hill,” Looney said. “And I want to ensure our interests are represented there, as well.”
The board voted 11-0 to approve the measure to hire two registered lobbyists for $15,000 each. Looney will direct the lobbyists to advance seven resolutions the board passed last night pertaining directly to seven bills before the state legislature. Fourth District School Board member Tim McLaughlin abstained from the vote.
“I do agree that we shouldn’t be using taxpayer money to go fight things on the hill,” McLaughlin said. “But, unfortunately, we have to. There are things that are going to be harmful to our county.”
The resolutions target bills that would generally increase state involvement over local schools.
“This board has said you believe in small government and local control,” Looney said, in asking for the board’s support to hire the lobbyists.
Looney will instruct the “consultants” to ask state legislators to vote no on five bills, and yes on two.
The so-called “open enrollment” bill would require school districts to allow students to change schools once a year regardless of zoning districts.
“It would destroy community schools,” said 10th District Board Member Eric Welch. “Anarchy and chaos would be the best way to describe it. We would start seeing athletic schools over academic schools.”
Other bills include one that would force schools to make “underutilized or vacant properties” available to charter schools, and another that would “enact an unnecessary policy related to the removal of disruptive students from classrooms,” according to the resolutions. The other two bills the school board voted to oppose would prohibit local schools from offering exam exemptions based upon attendance, and another that would merge the financial operations of local education agencies and county governments.
“I don’t really see how that could possibly work for our benefit,” Looney said.
The first of the two bills the board supports provide for judicial review of decisions made by the Tennessee Board of Education regarding the approval or denial of a charter school application by a local board of education. The other would require reductions of force due to decreases in enrollment “and for other good reasons” be based upon employee effectiveness rather than measures such as seniority.
The board also voted 10-1 to attach a tuition amount of $3,932 for the child of an out-of-district teacher who attends Williamson County schools for fiscal year 2013, and a “premium charge” of $5,414 for families moving into the district but have yet to establish residency within the county. Some board members felt that such tuition is unfair to the families of teachers from outside the district. Others said not charging tuition is unfair to teachers who live within the district and pay taxes that support the WCS. Looney stressed that the vote to approve the tuition figures, which are based on tax amounts, does not enact the tuition; the purpose is to facilitate discussion at the March 18 meeting. First District Board Member Kenneth Peterson voted “no,” and Third District Board Member P.J. Mezera abstained.
Looney asked the administration’s legal counsel to address accusations raised during the public comment portion of the meeting that WCS is violating federal regulations in handling chemicals, posing a health risk to children.
Attorney’s dismiss chemical concerns, secrecy
“To the best of my knowledge, based upon the labels, we are in compliance,” said Bill Squires, staff attorney.
Jason Golden, WCS deputy superintendent and legal counsel, said there was no credence to the other assertion raised that the administration was withholding information in violation of open-records laws.
“We are in full compliance with state open records [laws],” Golden said.
Posted on: 2/19/2013