Today is Sunday, August 20, 2017

$130 mil school budget passes, 3-2

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Board Members Wayne McNeese, above, and Don Weathers voted against the proposed school budget because they didn’t have enough time to review the thick document, McNeese said. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Board Member Don Weathers argues against giving Mt. Juliet three acres for a fire station from the new west-side high school property in addition to other benefits in a settlement offer. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
“The bus comes past my house at 20 till 6 to pick up kids,” School Board Chair Larry Tomlinson says. “That’s too early.” A proposed solution is to move the entire system’s start time later. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Brian and Tara Burress request that their children be allowed to go to Gladeville School rather than Southside because of alleged problems with the double pick-up lane at Southside as Attendance Supervisor Stanley Moss, right, describes his investigation into the matter to the school board. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

The unofficial Wilson County Schools budget for 2016-17 totals nearly $130.24 million, Deputy Director of Schools for Finance Mickey Hall told the county school board Monday night.

And the board approved the proposed budget, 3-2, with Zone 1 Member Wayne McNeese and Zone 3 Member Don Weathers voting no because the board had just been given the thick budget document at the beginning of the meeting - and they hadn't had time to review it.

Hall told the board members that they need to start the budget process this early in the year because the state has changed the due date for county budgets from September or October - as it has been in the past - to Aug. 31 this year.

He also said that means some of the figures he was presenting will change after the system closes out its books for this year, at the end of June.

80 new teachers

Hall said he predicts Wilson County Schools will need 80 new teachers - 53 in the high schools and 27 in grades K-8.

Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright explained that part of the reason for the increase is that more students are requesting Advanced Placement (AP) and Commercial Technical Education (CTE) classes. Those classes have fewer students per class than regular high school classes.

One thing that needs to be addressed in the budget if that's how to do it, Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson said, is the early hour that buses roll.

"The bus comes past my house at 20 till 6 to pick up kids," Tomlinson said. "That's too early." Hall responded that the cost-neutral way to address the problem would be to move the system's starting times up by 15-45 minutes.

However, Wright reminded the board that later starting times at the middle and high schools would leave less time for clubs and sports, of course.

Across-the-board raises

Raises of 1 percent across the board also would take another $725,000, Hall said - plus another extra expense involves keeping adult education as an in-house program. Hall said the state has decided to divide adult education into eight districts across the state to cut down on administrative costs.

But, he said, participating in the state districts would also mean many adults wouldn't have as good access to the program. This year, 132 adults graduated from the program and were offered over $1 million in scholarships, Wright added.

McNeese asked for a work session to go over the budget in more detail - but Zone 2 Member Bill Robinson made a motion to send the budget to the county commission's Education and Budget committees, which passed 3-2 with McNeese and Weathers opposed.

'Out-of-zones' get nod

Two families also were given permission to allow their children to attend schools they're not zoned for.

In one case, the board voted 4-1 to allow the children of Brian and Tara Burress to attend Gladeville School even though they're zoned for Southside. The couple said they're concerned for the children's safety when they're being picked up from school at Southside.

"Children are standing outside on yellow rectangles between lanes of cars," Tara told the board.

Brian added that kindergarteners and first graders stand at one curb and fourth and fifth graders stand on the other side of the drive - but second and third graders stand between the lines of traffic.

Voting no, Zone 4 Member Linda Armistead expressed concern that requesting to change schools could become a pattern, adding, "Gladeville is already overcrowded, and I'm sure Southside is doing their best. This could cause others to complain, too."

Attendance Supervisor Stanley Moss said he had talked to the principal at Southside, who said the situation has been checked and there doesn't appear to be a problem. But the school is getting a new principal in the fall who will check into the issue more then as well, Moss promised the board.

'For good of student'

Grandmother Debbie Parkhurst and her son Justin Parkhurst asked to allow Justin's son, a rising fourth grader, to continue to attend Stoner Creek Elementary although he had been rezoned along with 99 other children to attend Mt. Juliet Elementary to help relieve overcrowding at Stoner Creek.

The grandmother said the boy is learning-disabled and has never attended any school but Stoner Creek, and she's concerned that the change might make him lose some of the progress he's been making.

"He received one of the 100 'dreaded letters' (transferring him out of Stoner Creek)," Parkhurst said. The board voted unanimously to let the child remain in his old school, which McNeese said is "in the best interests of the child."

'Getting results'

Dr. Wright also reported on some of the success the system has experienced this school year. "Our attendance rate has gone up from 94 percent in 2014-15 to 96.15 percent in 2015-16," she said. "Our overall graduation rate is 94.7, and 13 percent more of our seniors are attending college."

In addition, US News and World Report has ranked Mt. Juliet in the top 15 percent of high schools nationwide, and Watertown in the top 30 percent, Wright told the board.

Plus, the Nashville Business Journal has named Mt. Juliet sixth in the state for attendance, and the school system has gotten all those results with the lowest per capita spending in the state, Wright continued.

Weathers said he thinks the school system should be proud of those figures. "We are offering a better education for less money than any of the others," he said.

Wright agreed with a grin, commenting that the county is getting "a good return for our investment."

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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