Wilson County Board of Education chair Larry Tomlinson addressed misinformation he heard recently regarding the proposed Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet.
In a letter sent to The Democrat, Tomlinson focused on nine issues he called “rumors,” and offered corrections to each.
Tomlinson said the land for the proposed school off North Mt. Juliet Road was chosen after engineers, archeologists and professional planners did extensive research. He addressed assumptions the land wasn’t suitable for construction due to location, size of the property, costs, condition of the property, proximity to students, and the presence of an old cemetery. Tomlinson linked and cited wcschools.com/Page/1478 that includes site-selection documents.
Tomlinson then tackled the rumor the district had no need for a new school, as county schools currently have 4,500 open seats. He said most of the open seats are in elementary schools, while the need for new classroom space is needed for middle and high school students. The new Gladeville Middle School, which will open in fall 2019, will accommodate the need for middle school students, but Tomlinson said the nearly all of the open seats in high school are at Watertown High School, while the proposed Green Hill High School would provide a central location for students in both Mt. Juliet and Lebanon. Lebanon High School, Wilson Central High School and Mt. Juliet High School are all beyond capacity.
Tomlinson then addressed the idea it would be cheaper and reasonable to expand current high schools. He said Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet high schools don’t have the physical space to expand, and the quality of education tends to suffer with larger school populations.
Tomlinson said the dollar amount for both the site preparation and the total cost of the project were mischaracterized. He said the cost to prepare the site for construction would come in at nearly the same price as what was spent to prepare the sites at Lebanon High School, Wilson Central High School, Mt. Juliet High School and Watertown High School, which is $9.6 million.
Tomlinson said the price tag was questioned and compared to other counties. He specifically calling out claims that Maury County built a high school for “$40 million-$50 million” and Dickson County built a middle school for “$30 million.” He said the high school that was upgraded in Maury County was a renovation with the construction of new athletic facilities and not an entirely new project. He said the school did not include any soft costs such as furniture, fixtures and equipment required for any new school to open. He also referenced the project manager of the school who said the building is smaller than the planned school in Wilson County.
According to Tomlinson, the middle school in Dickson County was built for $30 million after $40 million was given to the school board to renovate existing elementary schools and build a middle school, which ended up at a smaller student capacity of 800, because the county commission would not fully fund the total of the cost to build a 1,500-student school.
Tomlinson then dispelled rumors the Wilson County Commission allocated money for teacher raises several years ago, but the district decided to give them a one-time bonus instead.
Tomlinson said in fall 2016, Wilson County Schools increased the pay rate for new teachers to $40,000 to better compete with the pay of surrounding school districts. In an effort to make sure that veteran teachers were also fairly compensated, the Wilson County Commission allocated an additional 8 cents on the property tax rate, which generated nearly $2.5 million to the school district to fund additional pay increases. The pay increases were implemented at $1,000 for one to five years of service, $2,000 for six to nine years of service, and $3,000 for 10-plus years of service.
Tomlinson addressed concerns the per-pupil allocation in Wilson County was $1,600 less than the state average of $9,900. Tomlinson said while the numbers are accurate, there is a misunderstanding of how the money is actually distributed. He said for each dollar that Wilson County sends to the state for education, roughly 60 cents comes back to the district, while the remaining 40 cents is distributed to other districts in the state with higher student poverty levels.
Tomlinson said because students in Wilson County are proportionally more affluent that students in many other counties, it puts Wilson County at the bottom 30 percent of schools that receive money from the state.
“When that happens, the dollars must be made up locally, and currently they are not,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson also pointed out the county mayor is not a member of the Education Committee and therefore does not get a vote on the matter.
Tomlinson said the consequences to not fund the new high school by the end of August would lead to high school students rezoned from the east to the west of the county next year. The reintroduction of portable classrooms, which were cited for safety issues and the amount of parking space they take up, would also be required to accommodate the growing student population. Additional impacts may be felt with the reduction of elective classes offered and possibly a modification of the entire school schedule to accommodate more time for lunch periods. The three largest high schools in Wilson County currently have four or more lunch periods.
“It gives me no pleasure to write this letter,” Tomlinson said in his 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.”