It’s nice to see someone taking the bull by the horns.
4th District County Commissioner Kathy Danner presented the statement below on Tuesday to the Williamson County Commission’s Education Committee regards to WCS rezoning:
“I would like to share my thoughts on the current zoning plan and how it relates to the School Board’s request for new building funding.
I know that typically the County Commission does not get involved with the school board’s business especially when it comes to zoning, However, for me, because of the recent erosion in credibility of central office and the lack of transparency, I would like to offer 4 next steps regarding their request for funding.
As it relates to loss in credibility for Central Office:
– This County has been funding schools for years, apparently in the wrong locations. Dr. Looney said as much in our last commission meeting: I quote from the minutes: “Dr. Looney stated that it is difficult to populate Centennial High because of the proximity of 3 high schools. He also stated that he does not believe there is a silver bullet that enables all schools to be filled before more schools are requested.”
If we have been building schools in the wrong locations, then the data from Central Office must have been inaccurate or misleading. This is fiscally irresponsible.
Our job is to be fiscally responsible.
– The Data given to Edulog was wrong. Not only in the sense that there was a county wide growth rate applied to built out neighborhoods who have no growth rate, but also in that they didn’t even know the actual capacity of Centennial. This can be found doing a simple Google search of the school. AND then, to add insult to injury, instead of just admitting a mistake, they created new definitions of capacity. We have Optimal, Program, and Overload. Note that program capacity can change any time that the programs are changed at a school. Therefore, what is the tax payer buying when we fund a school??
– The argument that capacity = quality of education. ? I don’t understand. If that were so, then the over capacity of Ravenwood and the under capacity status of Brentwood High, would have those schools ranked last. Instead, they are ranked first and second. Centennial, without the addition of new kids and with 252 out of zone students who are zoned for Centennial actually improved it’s ACT scores last year. I talked to the TDOE today and found out that in the 2010 TDOE report card that Centennial will have also improved it’s graduation rate. They did this without new students.
To the issue of Transparency: I have two constituents that have requested the numbers that were used to run Edulog: The numbers of students per grade per school per neighborhood. They made their request over 30 days ago. The Central Office has NOT complied with even the legally required letter stating when they could expect this data.
This is a matter of Trust. We as Commissioners have been entrusted with the county’s tax dollars. We have to be able to TRUST Central Office (as do the school board members) to provide accurate and transparent information. 72% of the County Wide budget including school debt is allocated to schools. We must get this right.
Suggested Action from the County Commission/ Education Committee
1) The Central Office and the School board have been working on a 7 year Long Term Strategic Plan. The first one ever. I understand that is due out in January.
Zoning is a part of that plan. The first resolution or mandate that I would like to offer is that NO tax dollars be offered until the 7 year long term strategic plan which should include zoning (whether it is county wide or done in sections) be presented to the commission. No county wide zoning should occur without this 7 year strategic plan first. How in the world can tax payers contribute to new funding plans without knowing the direction we are headed. There is not a board of trustees in this county that would ever let a CEO have funding without a plan.
Within that Long Term Strategic Plan, there should be goals of having NO less than a 40 % split for any split school. If the parents who participated in the Long Term Strategic Plan said that equitable splits, clean feeder systems and proximity were more important to them, then by all means, run our $80K Edulog software module with these factors more heavily weighted than capacity. Make all the data public!
If we have schools in the wrong locations then I would expect hard data to convince us and the taxpayers that all of the options (such as selling a school or other out of the box options) were thoroughly evaluated and prioritized. The School Board could sell a school and use that money within the school board’s budget to purchase a school in a more ideal location? Just an example: Centennial happens to be on prime real estate and if sold to a non-government entity, that property goes onto the tax roles. It also is near and may be within an economic development zone and could also presumably be a benefit to that as well. Again, how can we reward new funding without a plan?
2) I would like to hold the Central Office accountable when asking for a new school, that they also provide alternative plans to build onto existing schools. For example: The Ravenwood Wing. Why hasn’t this been built? It was in the original plan and will add capacity for 200 more students? Again, before we can offer new funding, we and the taxpayers should be presented with hard data on alternatives like school additions and portables as options.
3) Instead of a mandate on capacity equalization for ALL schools, let’s make suggestions that not only use the tax payers money wisely, but are best for kids. I see merit in capacity equalization for elementary schools. However, at the Middle school and High School level, the quality of education is threatened by moving kids from school to school. High Schools especially are too different in culture and academic offering. Zoning students at the High School level should only be done if there is a brand new school or if the schools are equivalent in average ACT scores, program offerings, and graduation rates.
4) Another suggestion is to offer a task force to Central Office so that some light and transparency can be shed into “the cave”.. Possibly 2- 3 parents from each of the 12 districts chosen by the County Commissioners to meet with Central Office in finalizing a partial or whole county zoning plan that will be a part of the 7 year Long Term Strategic Plan.
I believe if we work together, we can do better for the County than what has been offered recently.
– Kathy Danner”
Thoughts or comments?