Wilson County Board of Education Chairman Don Weathers said the board already set into motion plans for a middle school nearly six years ago in areas surrounding Lebanon on Tuesday night during a work session concerning the future of students at three elementary schools.
Weathers told a crowd of about 200 concerned parents, teachers and other community members a decision in 2007 and another in 2002 would have to first be reversed before students were allowed to remain at overcrowded Carroll Oakland, Southside and Tuckers Crossroads elementary schools, which currently serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
“The board made that decision in 2007 to go to a middle school format,” Weathers said. “…That would have to be reversed.”
Weathers made the announcement after he and other board members were grilled by Lebanon police Officer Marlene Guthrey, who is also a parent of a Southside Elementary student.
“He is already decided,” Guthrey told the crowd just before jeers erupted.
“We are considering whether to make [old Lebanon High School] a middle school,” Weathers said.
Just before the meeting’s conclusion, board member Greg Lasater pointed out the board passed the middle school measure by a 3-2 vote in 2007, which came prior to deplorable conditions at the old high school were highlighted by reports in The Lebanon Democrat and other media. The decision also came prior to a decision to build a new Lebanon High School.
“So you kind of already know how that vote would go down,” Lasater said.
“Greg kind of threw us under the bus,” Weathers said.
Though Lasater made his stance clear on the issue of creating a new Lebanon Middle School, at least one other board member indicated his mind was not made up.
“Nobody has proven to me that a middle school is better than a K-8 school,” said board member Wayne McNeese. “My mind is wide open.”
Weathers indicated the board would address the issue again during its next meeting Jan. 7. He said a vote on whether to use the old Lebanon High School to house 634 sixth- through eighth-grade students and 30 teachers currently at the three elementary schools as a new Lebanon Middle School if all information is available on the issue, such as an environmental study currently in the works at the former high school.
At a Dec. 1 work session, however, architect plans for three options were presented to the board, which also included proposals for additions at the three elementary schools, as well as a new middle school built near the new Lebanon High School off South Hartmann Drive.
“If we decide not to make this a middle school, it’s a moot point,” Weathers said. “…If we choose to stay with the decision that was made, part of that will be what approach we take. We are gathering as much information as we can right now.”
One by one, community members made up mostly of parents and teachers from the three elementary schools, were allowed to ask questions and voice opinions during the contentious work session.
Chris Beagle, a parent, asked if the board had a deadline to move forward.
“It would be good to get the ball rolling as soon as possible,” Weathers said. “That’s given the age of the building.”
Tuckers Crossroads teacher Nicole Williams asked how a new middle school would be staffed.
Director of Schools Mike Davis said no teachers would lose their jobs. He said a principal would first be hired, and teachers would be hired based on the principal’s recommendations to him. Davis said between 80-100 teachers are lost each year through attrition, so it wouldn’t be an issue of staffing the proposed new school.
Some addressed safety and health concerns in using the former Lebanon High School.
“Larger does not mean safer or better,” one parent told the board. “I’m of the opinion that you can put my boots in the oven, but it’s not going to make me biscuits. You can slap all the paint on it you want or whatever. The consensus is that the community doesn’t want use of this school.”