Ultimately, the Education Committee approved the budget, which moves to the Budget Committee for consideration. The Education Committee also approved an additional 4-percent pay increase for classroom teachers to be funded without a tax increase. The Budget Committee voted to receive the budget and pay raise recommendation and is expected to consider both at its August meeting. The Wilson County Commission will meet in a budget workshop Thursday at 5 p.m. in commission chambers at the Wilson County Courthouse.
Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall laid out the details of the new school project and addressed what is still a contentious plan among supporters of the new school and a small group of citizens opposed to it.
Hall said the location was chosen because of its proximity to students and families as determined on a heat map, and the 79-acre campus would not disturb a small cemetery on the purchased property. Those opposed to the project want a more detailed inspection of the cemetery and the surrounding areas, but Hall insisted the school would not disturb the area, citing the cemetery wasn’t registered until the school system did so.
Other objections to the school were on the basis of traffic and safety, congestion and flooding that could lead to flood damage to surrounding homes.
Leah Jack, whose home is next to the school property, echoed previous arguments in public comments, citing the cemetery, flooding potential and traffic concerns.
“I’m here addressing our county commissioners, because you are my representation, and that’s why I want you to hear and understand the cost of building this high school at a proposed $106 million price tag, which will go up. It will assuredly go up,” Jack said. “I was told by Dr. Wright that they have experts looking at everything, and I’m sure they do. But there are unknowns on that property that I don’t believe they took into account, and I don’t frankly trust the experts, when they have to keep changing things over and over again because of the concerns that we’ve brought up and addressed.
“They haven’t adequately completed their homework as has previously been stated, and this is not in our best interest as a county to build this particular school, to pass this particular budget, [Commissioner Mike] Justice, or this high school at this time. I believe that there are other properties and other opportunities that we would be better suited.”
Justice addressed Jack directly and said, “I have never seen a project that has been more misinterpreted, especially on social media, as far as not getting the facts.”
“I would agree with that statement,” Jack said.
Justice then attempted to explain to Jack the role and working process of the commission in the matter, to which Jack said she was aware of the role of the commission. They ended in disagreement about the amount of consideration and in-depth work put into the project.
“I would respectfully disagree with your facts statement, because the facts as we know it are far different from what has been presented. They’ve been changed time and time again,” Jack said.
Hall then talked about the price tag. He said the four bids on the high school were between $86.7 million and $101.5 million, and the total construction of the school came in at just more than $106 million and the total project at just more than $111 million. Hall also said the project cost would be $206.42 per square foot, which nearly aligned with the estimated $206 per square foot.
The budget was then discussed, and Hall told the joint session that teacher salaries had an average increase of $2,424 from $45,624 average salary per teacher for 2015-2016 to $48,049 for 2016-2017.
The district has 2 percent more money in its budget for classroom teachers, and it will be disbursed based on the teacher pay plan. It includes 1.5 percent for teacher performance pay. The performance pay is typically based on principal evaluations and state testing results, but since state testing was hold harmless last year due to complications, test scores didn’t count against teachers.
Based on the nearly $50 million currently budgeted for teacher salaries in Wilson County Schools’ proposed budget, an additional nearly $2 million in reoccurring funds would be needed to give teachers a 4-percent raise.
Hall said the overall budget is up 6.2 percent compared to last year, and the total revenue of the general school purpose budget is just more than $144.5 million. Hall also said the insurance fund is doing well, and some administrators and staff for the new Gladeville Middle School that will open at the beginning of the 2019 school year are budgeted to begin work in January.
Four new teachers and four new teachers’ assistants were added for the upcoming school year for special education needs, two new teachers added for career and technical education and three new guidance counselors for high schools. A second assistant principal is also planned for Watertown High School, but the school didn’t hire one new teacher to make room in the budget.
Hall also said background checks would be done every five years on school employees.
The needs assessment outlined 10 new routes for buses, but to get the bus routes down from 90 minutes to one hour, 33 new routes, 33 new drivers and 19 new buses would be needed. There was also discussion about buying buses equipped with seat belts, which would lead to less room for students on buses and the need for more buses to compensate.