Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Q&A with Dr. Wright

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With a property tax rate hike potentially on the horizon, The Wilson Post was curious to know the breakdown of how the Wilson County School System is funded.

Recent numbers have shown that due to being a wealthy county, the state of Tennessee helps WCS less than school systems of poorer counties. Wilson County is one of the lowest recipients of funding in the state.

According to a report for National Public Radio, Wilson County is the 5th lowest funded school district in the state, contributing $6,779 per student (according to data from NPR and Education Week from 2013; see sidebar). The U.S. Average is $11,841, while Tennessee school distriact spend on average $8,958 per student.

Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright graciously answered some of our questions - and pointed out that while the lack of state funding may be costing us when it comes to technology; we are still attracting top notch educators in our district.

WP: What is the percentage breakdown per Wilson County student funding - as local, state and federal dollars?

DW: 58 percent State, 1 percent Federal and 41 percent County/Local for the General Purpose School Fund if the County Commission decided to fund the pay raises requested for teachers.

WP: How is the state money decided?

DW: BEP Funding. Wilson is the 2nd wealthiest county and receives the 2nd fewest state dollars.

WP: How does Wilson compare with nearby districts in Williamson, Sumner and Rutherford?

DW: We are funded through the BEP formula from the State of Tennessee for the state's portion of our funding. The formula factors are set by the state board of education (Blue Book) based on historical cost factors from school district financial reports from across the state. We are also held to what is referred to as "ability to pay," which means that we have the funding mechanism to raise money through property and sales taxes.

WP: How would more money make a difference - More teachers? Better teacher pay? Improved facilities? More technology?

DW: All of these areas apply to making a difference for our students and staff. We would offer better pay and benefits, first and foremost. Second, we would look at meeting the 21st century technology needs of our students with our 1:1 initiative ... We will continue to need more facilities to keep up with the growth in our county and to properly and safely house our students and staff. We have the ability to project growth and we need to be more proactive as a county and as a district in preparing for the future.

WP: Are we losing teachers, staff, administrators and coaches to school districts with better pay or benefits?

DW: It simply isn't the case and it is validated by the state department that shows we have one of the highest teacher retention rates among surrounding districts. Our beginning salaries and pay plan makes us competitive, and if the county commission approves a pay increase for our teachers this budget cycle, we will be even more competitive. We are seeing teachers from other districts actively looking to relocate to WCS.

WP: What are our students going without?

DW: We are continuing to piecemeal technology at each of our schools, while at the same time talk about preparing our students for college and career. So, essentially, our students are going without appropriate and adequate access to technology.

WP: Does higher population help or hurt the school district, with regards to funding?

DW: Growth in student population will always be our struggle as we try to meet the demands of students, facilities, etc. Student growth will outpace our ability to provide classroom seats and buildings in high-density areas due to the time it takes to get the funding approved. Funding becomes a lagging indicator when there is rapid growth in any school district. If you look at the building program and timeline we have presented, it is nearly five years before the timeline is met, but we know that we need the schools today.

WP: How does funding in Wilson County affect learning and teaching?

DW: Having a highly qualified and compensated staff allows us to have effective teachers, which is the single most important factor in student achievement and is supported in the outcomes we have seen in the last several years.

WP: How does the district measure success?

DW: We are constantly looking at the data to determine skill deficits, gaps, trends, etc. The following are areas where we determine success:

  • Sub Groups: Identify, Name, Predict/Track, Specify skill deficits (sub groups are economically disadvantaged (poverty), race, Special Education, ELL (English Learners)
  • Graduation: Persistence Rate (Tech, Trade, 2 year, 4 year) (We have the highest graduation rate of any district our size)
  • ACT: static (increase in honors/AP classes, pre-honors classes in middle school, multiple times taking the test/test taking strategies) We are measuring success by moving the"needle" in improving our ACT scores, which are a strong indicator on the quality of instruction and the course offerings available to students).
  • Backward Design: identify the gaps; vertical alignment (this is an ongoing process where we are constantly looking to identify gaps in learning (by grade and by school).

This last school year, nine schools in the entire state were identified as the highest performing and achieving schools. Three of the nine schools were in Wilson County - Gladeville, WA Wright, and MJHS. Four other schools were on the "cusp" of hitting the mark. This didn't happen by accident, but was the intentional of personalizing instruction for our students in a meaningful and deliberate way.

WP: Are we just an average district?

DW: We are a good district, working our way very deliberately towards being a great school district. By all outside indicators, we are already positioning our district in the top five percent in the state.

WP: How can Wilson County Schools improve?

DW: We make a unique contribution. We want to be a school system that can produce exceptional results over a long period of time - beyond any single superintendent, great plan, school board members, of funding. This is an important concept for sustainability. We want to build a resilient district that adjusts to meet the needs of our boys and girls. Status Quo is not acceptable. Greatness is a process, not an end point in 10 years. Wilson County Schools are moving in the right direction on behalf of boys and girls.

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at

Wilson County 5th lowest funded school district in TN


Based on an Education Week analysis of federal data, this map displays spending per student for school districts in the 2013 fiscal year. Expenditure amounts have been adjusted for regional differences in cost of living, using the NCES Comparable Wage Index 2013 as updated by Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University. The map displays "regular" school districts and does not include supervisory unions, regional education service agencies, other non-standard agency configurations, or districts missing student enrollment information. Some school district boundaries may have changed since this analysis.

Source: Education Week, U.S. Census Bureau

Credit: Katie Park, Alyson Hurt, Tyler Fisher and Lisa Charlotte Rost/NPR

5 least-funded school districts in TN (per student)

  1. Macon County- $6,264
  2. Union County- $6,329
  3. Tipton County- $6,602
  4. Trousdale County- $6,702
  5. Wilson County- $6,779

5 highest-funded school districts in TN (per student)

  1. Hancock County- $12,301
  2. Manchester City SD- $11,600
  3. Franklin City SSD- $11,313
  4. Oak Ridge- $11,299
  5. Greeneville City SSD- $11,120

Neighboring counties funding (per student)

  • Wilson County- $6,779
  • Lebanon Special School District- $7,315
  • Rutherford County- $7,142
  • Williamson County- $7,556
  • Nashville-Davidson County- $9,349
  • Sumner County- $7,106
  • Trousdale County- $6,702
  • Smith County- $7,133
  • DeKalb County- $8,238
  • Cannon County- $7,187
  • Robertson County- $6,903
  • S. Average- $11,841

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