To the Editor:
It was wonderful to see that District 23 Wilson County Commissioner Bernie Ash attempted to inform the general public of the facts surrounding the commission’s approach to education. However, it was very disturbing to see that everything he reported was either inaccurate or misleading. In an attempt to educate both Mr. Ash and the public, I will give the real facts in regards to the points addressed in Mr. Ash’s letter.
Mr. Ash implied that no money can ever be taken away from the education budget once it is put in. What this means is that if this year’s budget was $90 million, next year’s budget must be at least $90 million. What Mr. Ash did not explain was that the commission decided to take $700,000 of growth money that occurred in the county. While the commission did not take the growth money from any other department, Mr. Ash will argue that the commission gave the school system $700,000 because it was allowed to keep half of the growth that occurred. Essentially, the commission took back 3 cents of last year’s 21 cent property tax increase from education.
Mr. Ash also states that test scores across the county are above the national average. While it would be great if this was true, it is not. The only test that the county can compare to the nation is the ACT. The most resent ACT to be released is the 2008 scores. In 2008, the national average was a 21.1, the state average was 20.7, and the Wilson County average was 20.6. So is the quality of education suffering? You be the judge.
Mr. Ash continues to discuss how “the County Commission has worked over a decade or more to build two new high schools, a couple of elementary schools, remodeled other schools and provided for other capital needs without fanfare or tax increases.” Again this is not accurate. Wilson Central was funded by a property tax increase and the bonds for Mt. Juliet High School were funded by the implementation of a $1,000 impact fee on new construction that was quickly inflated to $3,000. Mr. Ash also failed to mention that there are currently no facilities under construction, and the county is three years behind in its 10-year educational capital outlay plan.
The property tax amounts and total education budgets reported were accurate, but the education budgets were very misleading. Included in the education budget numbers were budgets for the extended school program (day care), central cafeteria and general debt services. Extended school program and the central cafeteria are separate from schools, are self sufficient (require no county funds) and actually generate funds. No other county includes these three funds when reporting the education budget because it is misleading.
These numbers are also very misleading because they are not shown in relationship to growth or normal inflation. It is for this reason that the state uses average funding per pupil when assessing educational funding. In an attempt to show how Wilson County really funds education, I will list the most recent funding per pupil released by the state. It should also be noted that the state of Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in the country in regards to per pupil funding.
Dollars per pupil as reported by the Tennessee State Report Card
Wilson County State Average2004-2005 $6,666 $7,3662005-2006 $6,124 $7,469 2006-2007 $6,504 $7,7942007-2008 $7,042 $8,345
Mr. Ash continues to misrepresent the feelings of the public by stating “the most often heard argument for a new LHS is Mt. Juliet has one, we want one, too.” That statement was as ignorant a statement as I have ever heard. All of those involved have never used this as the reason for a new Lebanon High School.
I agree completely with Mr. Ash that “we must be responsible and respect the property tax payer, who by the way took a 21-cent tax hit last year (for education).” This is why I would like to know how the commission would vote to remove 3 cents of the 21 cents it appropriated to education last year. I would also like to know why the commission continues to use the word “need,” but treats the new Lebanon High School project like a “want.” The word need means that there is an obligation to act upon a necessity. Mr. Ash along with many other commissioners have stated for more than two years now that there is no question that Lebanon High School “needs” a new high school. If Mr. Ash and this commission have not been able to solve a true need in two years, then this commission as a body must either be incompetent or negligent.
Due to the fact that Mr. Ash appears to have difficulties doing research, he might like to know that the “real people” that “are still hurting” in Mr. Ash’s precinct voted 289 to 179 for a wheel tax increase.
So Mr. Ash, while the students in your precinct continue to bump shoulders in the halls while dodging water from the ceilings, you continue to spread inaccurate and misleading information in hopes of covering your shameful record of doing what is popular politically rather than doing what is right.
David GlascockTeacherLebanon High School
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