At its Feb. 21 meeting at the Macon County Courthouse, by a 16-4 vote, the Macon County Commission elected to continue studying possible ways, if any, to fund the building of a new vocational school in Lafayette.
With Macon County facing extensive growth, county officials are having to figure out funding for multiple near-future projects, including a new elementary school and a new vocational school.
“Macon County is the fastest-growing county in the 14 Upper Cumberland counties,” said Macon County Mayor Steve Jones. “Of all the growth that is coming in here, it is affecting everything. It has affected our school system, our justice system, (and) the courthouse. (Due to growth), the school system is having to build a new elementary school because of overcrowding.”
As the school district is under pressure to fund a new elementary school, the county commission is considering helping the schools with a new vocational school, but funding is an issue.
“We’re talking about maybe a $12 million project that we will have to figure out how to fund,” said Jones. “The only way that we can fund anything is out of property tax or wheel tax. That’s the money that goes into that.”
The Tri-County Vocational Center currently serves Macon County vocational students. The school was built 48 years ago as a joint effort between Macon, Clay, and Jackson counties. However, a few years ago, Clay County pulled out of the vocational center, and Jackson County has been sending most of its vocational students into Livingston.
At this time, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Hartsville (TCAT) supplies teachers and equipment to the Tri-County Vocational Center, which is located in Red Boiling Springs, but it has told the county that it will be pulling out in the next few years unless the program can be moved to Lafayette, which will place it in closer proximity to Hartsville.
“Macon County — many, many years ago — built Tri-County Vocational School in Red Boiling Springs,” said Jones. “It has been there for years and years. When it was built, it was built for Macon County, Clay County, and Jackson County. The TCAT in Hartsville has been the one that has been providing the services for this school.
“Clay County pulled out of (the school) several years ago when they built a new high school. So, it left Jackson and Macon holding the system and keeping it together. Jackson County is closer in network with the TCAT system from Livingston. Macon County is closer to the TCAT system in Hartsville. But in the last couple of years, TCAT has come back and said that they no longer have the numbers (at Tri-County), and they no longer are going to provide the services there. They provide the teachers and equipment. So, our children will not have a vocational school. Once they pull out, it’s gone.”
According to Macon County Director of Schools Shawn Carter, TCAT indicated that the cost of transporting instructors from Hartsville to the far eastern portion of Macon County, plus the decrease in students in the program, are major factors in the decision to possibly pull out.
“To my understanding, TCAT has said with the decreased enrollment that Jackson County is sending, and with the enrollment that Macon County is presently sending, that it is not cost effective for them to transport their instructors all the way from Hartsville to the other side of Macon County,” said Carter. “But they said that if we would build a building in Lafayette, on campus at Macon County High School, they think it would increase enrollment. We think it would increase enrollment. But they will furnish the equipment and the teachers if we’ll build it closer.”
As with any public project, a $36 wheel-tax increase in Macon County has been suggested by county leaders as one option to fund the new vocational school. However, at this time, the project is still in the early stages, and commissioners have not yet voted on funding, nor even whether or not to move forward with the project.
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