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Schools face several pressing issues

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:54 PM

The Wilson County Board of Education has several decisions it needs to make quickly in order to address issues at the forefront of schools and the system as a whole.

The board met in a nearly two-hour work session Saturday morning to go over Monday’s regular meeting agenda. During the meeting, the board addressed several issues – both planned and unexpected – including an addition at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School and appointing an interim director of schools to replace Tim Setterlund, who agreed to leave his position in a settlement with the board last week.

The meeting started with a presentation from Jason Morris with Kaatz, Binkley, Jones and Morris Inc. in Mt. Juliet on a proposed roughly $15 million addition to Carroll-Oakland Elementary School. The proposed price tag includes $200,000 for a land purchase, but board member Larry Tomlinson said the commission had promised several years ago to buy the land for the board.

“The commission has some funds and would be willing to buy that property for us, so that wouldn’t have to come out of our budget,” Tomlinson said.

Morris said the addition, if approved by the board and ultimately the Wilson County Commission, would include a new gym and classrooms, as well as more parking and a loop drive.

Currently Morris said there are 657 students at the kindergarten through eighth-grade school, but the school needs space for 810 students due to grade configuration. He said the number of students is above the school’s capacity.

Morris said the addition is designed for 1,000 students, which eased concerns from board member Wayne McNeese.

“I don’t want I want to make sure, if we build this, we are talking about five to 10 years down the road,” McNeese said.

Morris said two versions of plans were originally done, but a two-story version was taken out to eliminate hot spots for areas where students could hide. Bill Morris, also with KBJM, said the addition would potentially create drainage issues, which would create the need for storm drains and retention ponds to be built.

Board chairman Don Weathers addressed concerns from an audience member about whether the expansion would affect potential plans for the school to go to a middle school format.

“This right now is a conversation about the expansion of the building,” Weathers said. “That even isn’t part of the conversation right now. We are talking about the building regardless of whether it becomes a K-5.”

An issue on school lunches was brought to the board’s attention highlighted by a recent ABC News report in which Salt Lake City, Utah cafeteria workers were throwing away hot lunches and replacing them with sack lunches for students who couldn’t pay or had deficit accounts.

Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said that practice is currently taking place in Wilson County schools for students found with a $4 or larger deficit in their lunch accounts. He said the cafeteria staff notifies parents via email if there is a deficit.

Hall asked the board to consider raising the deficit to $10 before lunches are replaced, but any deficits in the system’s cafeteria fund at the end of the year must be replaced using general funds.

Hall said the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates throwing away hot meals and giving students sack lunches if there is a deficit account. He said the sack lunch includes a sunflower seed butter sandwich.

“You can make a choice to supplement your cafeteria fund budget, but I don’t think you want to do that,” Hall said.

Weathers asked Hall to check on whether email blasts could be sent to parents each day to update them on lunch account balances.

“Anything we can do to get the message out to the parents would help,” Weathers said.

The appointment of an interim director of schools is the first item on the board’s agenda Monday. It appears the interim director would come from within the system, according to responses from the board when asked by Tomlinson on Saturday.

Board attorney Mike Jennings, who also serves as mayor of Watertown, said he was concerned with the board’s decision to ask Watertown to waive a building permit fee on the new high school under construction there.

“We are extremely happy to have a school,” Jennings said. “One of the things that shocked us when this came about was waiving a building permit fee. That kind of hits us in the pocketbook.”

Weathers said the board would look into the request to waive the building permit fee. 

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