Letter from Wilson County Board Member

  • Hello,

    As the School Board Member for Zone 5, I have been stunned by some of the inaccurate information that’s recently been circulating throughout the community, particularly as it relates to the school district.  For that reason, I want to take a moment to set the record straight on some of these rumors and share some accurate information that will hopefully allow you to separate fact from fiction, during this contentious election season.

    Rumor #1: 

    The land purchased for the new high school in Mt. Juliet isn’t suitable because…

    this isn’t where the real need is

    the property has sinkholes 

    it’ll cost a fortune to build on

    it isn’t where the growth is

    the parcel has slave graves all over it

    the property was too expensive

    it isn’t large enough to accommodate a school


    False- School leaders went through an extensive process to identify a piece of property for the new high school that would be suitable in size, price, location, and scope.  This has all been thoroughly documented in the way of studies, engineering reports, site selection information, score sheets, letters from archaeologists, and heat maps, that specifically show where our existing high school students live, and demonstrate where the needs are greatest.   This information, and more, was posted on our website more than six months:  Proposed New High School Information.

    The school district also hosted a series of well-publicized community meetings, this spring, to address the information above.


    Rumor #2:

    The school district has room for 4,500 additional students.  They don’t even need a new high school?

    False- The school district space to accommodate roughly 2,700 additional students, however a vast majority of that space (95%) exists in our elementary schools.  The district’s middle school population is currently over-capacity by approximately 136 students.  This situation is expected to be remedied next school year, with the opening of Gladeville Middle School.

    While there’s a modest amount of room available at the high school level, almost all of it exists at Watertown High School, which is not conveniently located to students in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon.  

    “Capacity Sheets” for each school can be found in the links below:

    Elementary Schools
    Middle Schools
    High Schools


    Rumor #3

    The district could have saved money by adding a wing to each high school for $25 million dollars, and adding 500 seats at each high school.

    False- For starters, it’s not clear where this figure originated, who came up with it, or what it includes.  Even if the numbers somehow WERE accurate, there’s no space for expansion at Wilson Central OR Mt. Juliet High School.  While some have suggested “adding a third floor”, this is clearly not a viable option.  Not only would it be an unheard of engineering feat, but this solution also fails to account for where we would relocate the existing students, while the buildings are being expanded upward.    

    Lastly, the board has made it clear early on, that they have no interest in building schools that house 3,000 students.  They are difficult to run logistically, and the quality of education almost always suffers.


    Rumor #4

    It’ll take millions to “fix” the property the school district has purchased near the corner of Lebanon and N. Green hill Road.

    False-  The cost of preparing this site for construction is almost exactly the same as what was spent at LHS, WCHS, MJHS, and WTHS.


    Rumor #5

    The new high-school is grossly over-priced.  Maury Co. recently built a high-school for $45-50 million, and Dickson recently built a Middle School for $30 million.

    False- Maury County recently renovated a high school, but that figure did not include the construction of new athletic facilities.  The estimate also didn’t include any soft costs… things like furniture, fixtures and equipment, which are required for any new school.  It’s also worth mentioning that the funds for that school are two years old, when construction costs were lower.  According to the Project Manager, the cost of the project came in at $217/sq. ft., and the building is 100,000 sq. feet, which is smaller than the new high school planned for Wilson County.

    According to the Superintendent in Dickson, the county commission gave the board $40-million to renovate some existing elementary schools and build a new middle school.  After taking into account what was needed for the elementary upgrades, only $30m was left to construct a new middle school.  Originally, the middle school was slated to accommodate 1,500 students, but due to the funding deficit, the school was reduced to a size that only allows for 800 students because the county commission would not fully fund the project.


    Rumor #6

    The County Commission allocated money for teacher pay raises a couple years back, but the school district gave them a one-time bonus instead.

    False- In the fall of 2016, Wilson Co. Schools increased the pay rate for new teachers to $40,000, in an effort to better align our teacher pay with surrounding school districts. 

    To ensure that our veteran teachers were not being compensated the same as a new teacher, the Wilson Co. Commission allocated an additional 8-cents to the school district ($2,498,712) for the purposes of funding additional pay increases for those teachers.  The pay increases were implemented at the following rates:

    • 1-5 years of experience: $1,000
    • 6-9 years of experience: $2,000
    • 10+ years of experience: $3,000

    It’s important to note that these numbers exclude the performance based pay raises that were given out to teachers, based on their level of effectiveness scores.  These teachers also received additional pay increases in line with the following scale:

     

    Other Frequently Asked Questions/Concerns

    According to the TN Dept. of Education, the per pupil allocation is $1,600K below the state average of $9,900.  Our school district isn’t fighting for students!

    False- While this number is accurate, it all boils down to simple mathematic equations.  Call it the “Robin Hood” effect, if you will.  For every dollar that Wilson Co. sends to the state for education, roughly 60-cents comes back to the district, and the remaining 40-cents is re-routed and distributed to other districts, with higher student poverty rates.

    As a whole, Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation for education spending.  When you factor in that students in our county are proportionally more affluent, that puts us at the bottom 30-percent of schools receiving money from the state.  When that happens, the dollars must be made of locally, and currently… they are not.

    Does the County Mayor have a vote on the Education Committee?   

    The County Mayor is not a member of the Education Committee; therefore, he does not have a vote on matters in front of the Education Committee.

    What are the implications if we do not have a new high school ready to open in 2020?

    If a new high school isn’t funded by the end of August, 2018… we will have no choice but to give parents a year’s notice that we will have to rezone high school students from the west to the east.  This information has already been shared at our community meetings and on our website.  If you have not seen the documents, they are available at the following link: Proposed New High School Information.

    For several years, we have been getting by at Mt. Juliet H.S. by rotating teachers throughout the building, if they did not have a “dedicated classroom”.  If we do not rezone, there will be dire consequences, such as…

    • We would have to reintroduce portables, which are not only a safety concern, but would also reduce the already limited number of parking spaces.
    • We would have to reduce the number of electives/classes beyond core requirements, in order to meet the graduation requirements for students.
    • We could possible look at a “California Scheduling Model” with an AM/PM division of students, which would require TDOE approval.

    It gives me no pleasure to write this letter.  In fact, I’m discouraged that things have deteriorated to the point where this was even necessary.  As always, my door is always open to those who have questions.  Please feel free to reach out to me, if you have any additional questions or concerns.

    Sincerely,
    Larry Tomlinson
    Wilson Co. School Board Member, Zone 5
    lwtom846@gmail.com
    615.566.6593