Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A first day and a last day

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During his final regular meeting representing Zone 3 on the school board, Don Weathers questions whether the board ever voted formally to seek the funding to renovate Watertown and Southside schools. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Board Chair Larry Tomlinson, left, says he believes the school board did vote June 6 to seek the funding to renovate Watertown and Southside schools, as Board Member Wayne McNeese looks on. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Everything went smoothly Monday, except for a few hot rooms where the A-C needed to be fixed, on the opening day of Wilson County Schools for 2016-17, Dr. Donna Wright tells the board that night. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Cumberland President Dr. Paul J. Stumb asks the school board to give CU “naming rights” for the stadium at Nokes-Lasater Field to raise funds from a donor as Troop 2015 Boy Scouts look on, left. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Deputy Director of Schools for Academics Monty Wilson describes several new policies that the school board passed on first reading – including one regulating religious content in school curriculum. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

"In 35 years, this was the best first day of school I've ever seen," Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright told the school board Monday night. Almost everything ran smoothly, she said, even though "we enrolled 44 new students who had not previously registered."

It's unusual for the board to meet on the first day of school - but this year it happened, Wright pointed out.

It was also Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers' last regular meeting as a board member after 12 years of service. By the next meeting on Sept. 12, a new member will have been elected for his zone and will be sworn in - presumably Tom Sottek, the only candidate seeking the Zone 3 seat in the Aug. 4 election.

'Funding not voted on?'

Weathers - who will be officially honored at the next meeting, according to Wright - said he's retiring due to the heavy travel demand he's currently experiencing in his regular job.

However, the three-term board member did not retire quietly. During Monday night's meeting, he asked how a request for $28 million to fund renovation and expansion at two county schools was sent to the county commission's Education Committee in June without a vote from the school board.

Weathers displayed the "needs list" he said the board voted on at its June 6 meeting. He said the list was not the same as one presented to the county Education Committee three days later.

The first list did not include renovations to Southside or Watertown elementary schools at a total cost of $28 million - but the second list did.

Wright quotes transcript

Weathers said he wanted to know how the amount of funding requested could have changed, and if the school board had voted for the change.

Wright said Deputy Director of Schools for Finance Mickey Hall had presented the changes at the board's June 6 meeting. She then read the following from a transcript of that meeting.

"M. Hall - The Needs Assessment - Dr. Wright has added these new sections. That is what was sent to you, two things for your consideration. We have added Southside and Watertown projects."

She said that meant that the board had voted on the added funding as part of the needs assessment, but Weathers said he had never voted on the added money for them.

Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson said he believed they had voted for the change at that meeting, however.

CU granted 'naming rights'

In other action Monday night, the school board granted Cumberland University approval to "sell" the privilege of naming the football stadium at Nokes-Lasater Field - although the field itself will retain the name Nokes-Lasater, CU Director of Athletics Ron Pavan said.

The old Lebanon High football field has become home to the CU Phoenix football team - and CU President Dr. Paul J. Stumb personally appeared before the board to request "naming rights" for the stadium.

The board also renewed Wilson County's memorandum of understanding with CU for the Phoenix to use the stadium.

Plus, in her director of schools' report, Wright told the board that enrollment in the county schools is growing by leaps and bounds again this year.

'799 new students'

Not only did 44 new students enroll on the first day, but she said 340 enrolled during summer registration - for a grand total of 799 new student enrollments since May 31.

"That's a whole new school," Wright commented.

She added that about half of those students are high schoolers, with Mt. Juliet and Lebanon high schools growing the fastest.

The county's newest school - Springdale Elementary on Central Pike - is about to spring out of the ground, Wright also reported. Construction is starting there. And work to expand and renovate both Gladeville and Tuckers Crossroads schools is progressing, she said.

The restrooms at both Mt. Juliet Middle and Wilson Central are completed, and work on the middle school auditorium and the high school track is starting.

Records to be open to view

Multiple records requested by 13 members of the county commission also will be available for viewing from Aug. 10-20 in the school board meeting room, according to Wright.

The records request for all documents on school construction since 2010 - including purchase orders - was part of a complaint connected to work done at the old Lebanon High School building to begin converting it into a new Central Office.

A request by Transportation Director Jerry Partlow to adjust the blood alcohol level required to dismiss bus drivers to 0.02 from the 0.00 the board had voted into the regulations also was approved.

Partlow said he had asked doctors and other experts and found that several other factors could cause that much of an alcohol reading - even if the driver was unimpaired.

'Bus drivers needed'

While Partlow has four drivers in training at the present time, he also told the board, he still needs about 15 more bus drivers to allow him to improve the amount of time some children have to spend on the school buses daily.

He added that the length of routes is only one factor in the long rides. Sometimes, he said, it is traffic and road conditions, citing problems with Highway 109 as an example.

"109 is the worst road in the entire world in my opinion," Partlow said. "I don't understand why the state is not responsive to the safety of our citizens. We need a light at Academy and one at the subdivision."

The board also passed the first reading of a state-required policy concerning teaching religious material in classrooms.

'No proselytizing'

The policy will prohibit teachers from proselytizing or injecting their own personal beliefs into any discussion of religion.

It adds that all instructional material used must come from sources approved by the district or the school principal.

However, the policy also provides a justification for teaching about religion as long as it's "presented only in a factual, objective, and a respectful manner."

"Curriculum related to religion serves the academic goals of educating students about history and cultures as well as about the traditions of particular religions in a pluralistic society," the proposed policy says. "Natural opportunities arise for discussions about religion while studying different cultures and communities throughout history."

The board also passed the first reading of a policy concerning suicide prevention - also required by state law.

The policy, according to Deputy Director of Schools for Academics Monty Wilson, only clarifies what Wilson County Schools already do, such as requiring teachers to take a course teaching them to recognize signs that a child might be suicidal.

New insurance premiums

Last but not least, the board also voted to adopt a new premium schedule for employee health insurance proposed by Tomlinson.

The change means the school system will pay all of the premium for an employee's individual coverage and the employee will be responsible for the family portion of the premium, or $6,615 per year - for a saving to the employee of 13 percent.

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

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