Crowd, board debate possible MJ locations
Before a capacity crowd of concerned residents from Mt. Juliet's Hickory Hills and Devonshire neighborhoods, the Wilson County School Board went into overtime Monday night at a work session to discuss possible sites for the county's next high school - and Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright unveiled a surprise possible site.
Visions of teen drivers passing through and endangering the safety of the children who live in the neighborhoods were voiced by the residents, who spoke for nearly an hour and left the school board members delaying the start of the regular meeting while the members debated the options.
Then in the regular meeting, they agreed to disagree and voted 4-1 to defer action until more information about three possible sites can be obtained plus one across the railroad tracks on Mt. Juliet's West Division Street, bordering on the Devonshire neighborhood, which has already been researched.
From one site, four
When the work session began, the West Division property was the only site being considered, but Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers introduced one near Double Log Cabin Road and Highway 109.
He also said that a high school in that area of the county could serve about 600 students who are now being bused south down 109 to Wilson Central.
"This would cut out the ride to Wilson Central for those students," he said. "And if we built a middle school there, too, it would cut down the ride to West Wilson Middle."
Zone 1 Board Member Wayne McNeese brought paperwork for a third property with him. He introduced a property at the northwest corner of Highway 109 and US 70. He said, "It's 80 acres for about $2 million."
As a sort of surprise, since it was only offered earlier the same afternoon as the work session, Dr. Wright presented a fourth property, which she said had been offered around 3 p.m. that afternoon, just before the meeting. It's at the corner of Lebanon Road (US 70) and North Greenhill Road and has about 65 acres for about $4.5 million.
'Next to W. A. Wright'
Dr. Wright said the property has the advantage of bordering W. A. Wright Elementary, "property which we already own," and would offer alternative access to the grade school.
All of this was discussed in the work session before the regular meeting during which several Hickory Hills and Devonshire residents asked the board not to approve the Division/Devonshire site. Mt. Juliet Vice Mayor James Maness was among the residents attending.
McNeese also pointed out that the Division property has another drawback. If the traffic to the school doesn't go through Devonshire, all the buses would have to enter and leave at a railroad crossing onto Division.
"Our safety regulations require buses to stop between 15 and 40 feet from all railroad crossings," he said. "Our buses are 42 feet long, and there's only 55 feet between the railroad tracks and Division. Our buses are going to be hanging two feet out into the road."
Motion to defer
When the regular meeting started, Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson asked the board to move the discussion and voting on the high school site first on the agenda due to the presence of the concerned crowd.
After some additional debate, Zone 4 Board Member Linda Armistead moved to defer the issue to allow the Executive Committee to negotiate a contract on the land at Lebanon and North Greenhill roads - and to reconsider the West Division property.
But first Tomlinson asked to amend her motion to say any decision on a contract would be made by the entire board at a special-called meeting if needed - not by just the Executive Committee, which consists of Wright and himself.
Armistead accepted Tomlinson's amendment. But when both Weathers and McNeese asked if the other two pieces of land on Highway 109 could also be added to the search, she opposed the change on the grounds that the highway with all its truck traffic is unsafe.
However, her proposal was voted down, 1-4, and Weathers moved to amend the same motion to consider all four properties. His version passed, 4-1, with Armistead casting the lone "no."
Board members feel left out
The meeting ended as fractiously as it began. Weathers asked why he and McNeese and Zone 2 Board Member Bill Robinson hadn't been "invited" to a meeting in Hickory Hills to discuss the possible high school sites, which Armistead, Wright, Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall and Tomlinson had attended.
Armistead said she had been invited because one of the organizers knew her from church. Wright said she hadn't been invited - she just decided to attend.
McNeese then asked Armistead if she's aware that Hickory Hills is in his zone, and why she had invited "Mickey, Larry and Donna," but not him. "You're not the representative for Zone 1 and I think this is disrespectful," he said.
Both Weathers and McNeese expressed serious concern about the meeting involving part of the school board which didn't include all members of the board.
"We all need equal access to all meetings," Weathers said.
He also asked about a letter from Wright shown to the county commission recently which said she and the Executive Committee of the board approved of a proposal by Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead to crank up the youth sports market in Wilson County.
Both she and Tomlinson said the mayor had asked to meet with them and they had only approved of the concept, making no commitment to the plan. Tomlinson specifically said he had told the mayor the schools would not commit any funds to this plan.
Tomlinson concerned about vouchers
The board then proceeded to honor students for various feats and achievements, including those who scored 100 percent on state writing assessments, as well as community people who have partnered with the schools.
Later, Tomlinson expressed his concern about the upcoming vote on the voucher system in the state legislature, which would take funding from public schools to pay tuition at private schools for an estimated 20,000 students statewide.
"Public education is coming under attack," he said. "I'm afraid what's happening is the beginning of the end for public education."
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.