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School Board approves sites for two new high schools
Feb 09, 2007 12:00 am
The Wilson County school board sent sites for two new high schools to the County Commission for consideration.
The Wilson County Board of Education voted 3-2 to recommend purchasing land at the U.S. Highway 231 site for a new Lebanon High School and the Commerce Road site for Watertown High School at its Tuesday meeting.
The proposed Lebanon site is 101 acres and is expected to cost $1.5 million. The Watertown site is 65.8 acres with an estimated cost of $1.52 million.
Board Chairman Lisa McMillin made a single motion to recommend both sites to the Wilson County Commission's Education and Finance committees, saying that the Commission's April resolution asking for site recommendations asked that the Lebanon and Watertown sites be considered together.
Board member Don Weathers expressed concern that Watertown's growth rate did not necessitate a land purchase for a new school.
Weathers said that while a new Lebanon High School was an "immediate urgent need," Watertown was "less of an urgent need." He presented growth statistics for both Lebanon and Watertown High Schools. The current Lebanon building is designed to hold 1,450 students; however, LHS's current population is 1,630. Watertown High School has grown by 88 students over the past 10 years.
He said that with the seventh and eighth graders moving to Watertown Elementary in the fall, Watertown High's student population would decrease by approximately 160 students in the 2007-2008 school year.
Citing the growth rate of Watertown High, Weathers said, "I just don't think it's prudent to buy land for a high school we won't need for 10 or 20 years. …When are we going to need a new Watertown High School?"
Board member Wayne McNeese agreed. "We need to separate our wants from our needs. We need a new Lebanon High School. We don't need a new Watertown High School. If we continue to lump this together [in a single motion], I have to vote against it," McNeese said.
Member Teddy Cook, who seconded McMillin's original motion, seemed to agree.
"We are holding one piece of property hostage for another," she said.
When the motion came to a vote, it was Cook that was the deciding factor. McMillin and Greg Lasater voted for the motion immediately, while Weathers and McNeese voted against it. Cook remained silent for a moment before voting "aye," approving the motion.
"We had to move on Lebanon High School, and it seemed the only way we could get it was with both [sites in the motion]. It's going back to the county court. ... It was time to get it out of the school board," Cook said.
It was the fate of what will become of the current LHS building that packed the meeting, though. A roomful of Southside Elementary Schools parents and teachers, many wearing Southside red and black, filled the room as a statement of solidarity against the rumors that a new Lebanon Middle School will change Southside from their current Kindergarten-to-eighth-grade configuration to a K-5 design.
Southside Principal Danny Hill presented the board with a petition to maintain the K-8 plan for his school from the administration and staff, signed by 98 percent of the faculty.
"(Southside) is a rich, deep-rooted community. …Don't change our configuration, it works for us," Hill said.
Annie Barger represented the parents of Southside's students. She offered a list of alternatives to using the current LHS as a grade 6-8 middle school once a new high school is built. She also cited the strengths of Southside, such as an attendance rate that exceeds the state average.
"Our kids want to come to school. …Please make the best decision, not necessarily the cheapest," Barger said.
At the end of her presentation, Barger asked for a show of hands from the Southside parents present of how many had bought their homes knowing that their children would attend the school. The overwhelming majority of red-clad hands went up.
McMillin told the group that the board wasn't ready to decide on Southside's fate just yet.
"We're not going to make any decisions tonight, but we appreciate your passion," she said.
Acting on Director of Schools Mickey Hall's recommendation, the board also approved the early-retirement incentive plan, which provides for teachers with 30 years experience or teachers older than 60 with 25 years of experience to retire with full health-insurance benefits. Hall said that the plan was implemented last year and saved the school system $102,000.
In other business, the board approved calendars for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years, as well as a code of conduct, transportation code and attendance policy, and appropriated $15,000 for a new locker room for the LHS baseball team.