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Education issues top commission discussion

Kimberly Jordan kjordan@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Two issues relating to education created much discussion during Monday night's Wilson County Commission meeting.

The first item was a resolution asking for a private act to change the number of members on the Wilson County Board of Education from the current five to seven. Commissioner William Glover offered an amendment to that resolution asking it be changed to read "to increase the number of school board districts and members from five to nine" instead of the originally proposed "from five to seven." His reasoning behind the change was "the schools, the children, are the most important asset to our county." He said he believed it was best the decisions were not controlled by a small number of board members.

Commissioner Annette Stafford, who proposed the original resolution, said, "there are currently approximately 116,000 people in Wilson County. Increasing from five to seven means they represent approximately 14,000. Increasing from five to nine would mean representing approximately 12,000 people."

The point of contention came when it was time to determine how those new members would be added to the board if the private act was approved by the state legislature. If the legislature and commission were to approve the act, it would then be sent to the ballot for a vote of the people.

If the referendum were to pass, several commissioners questioned just how the new members would be put in place.

As stated in the resolution, the commission would appoint the new members who would serve until the next General Election.

Commissioner Jeff Joines said, "my understanding is that the commission appoints vacancies, and if we pass that, it would create vacancies. I think this body has shown that we appoint good leaders to positions that become vacant."

Others felt the voters should be the ones who appoint the new members if the measure were to pass.

Wendell Marlowe, a commissioner as well as a principal, said, "as a longtime educator, I am not opposed to increasing the school board at all. I think the people should vote, [the new members] should not be appointed."

Glover agreed, saying, "it's crucial that we let the voters decide."

County attorney Mike Jennings said he thought there might be problems with getting the school board zones redistricted in time to place the extra members on the November ballot.

Mayor Randall Hutto said the issue is whether the commissioners wanted to wait until the next election.

"How soon do you want [voters] to be able to vote for them?"

Jennings said there would be a possibility of calling for a special election for the new positions if the commission chose.

Ultimately, the amendment and resolution passed by a 19-5 vote.

A second issue came when a vote to allow excess funds from Rutland Elementary School, West Elementary School and West Wilson Middle School projects to be used for "preparatory work for construction for an addition to Carroll-Oakland Elementary School.”

The school board brought the topic up for discussion during its December meeting, but did not officially say it wanted to send the idea to the commission. It was scheduled to be discussed in the board's next work session.

Commissioner Kenny Reich asked his fellow commissioners to go forward with a vote to allow it, "so that it can be sent to the board of education for their next meeting."

Marlowe wished to amend the proposal to exclude the funds from West Wilson Middle School because "staff and parents were told that any funds left over from the project at the school would be used to complete a project that was started four years ago."

The money would be used to complete a football field, which is still in need of lighting and bleachers, according to Marlowe.

The amendment failed for lack of a second, and the original resolution passed with a 22-2 vote.

Also at the meeting, the commission appointed Terry Muncher to fill the vacant seat in District 18, which was left open after Adam Bannach resigned due to moving out of the district.

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