By EMILY R. WEST
Adequately funding Williamson County Schools will become a top priority for whoever wins the two contested state house seats in November, the candidates said Tuesday morning.
During the WAKM 950 AM Coffee and Conversations program, those running for District 63 and 65 expressed concern about how state Basic Education Program funding is allocated and how to fund rapid local growth expected throughout the next decade. District 61’s Charles Sargent, who is running unopposed, also explained what role he would play in the legislature next year.
The price tag for paying for new schools and the number of students expected in the next decade are sizable.
The projected growth is estimated to cost the district in capital costs alone around $500 million. If growth is correctly anticipated, it will also mean nearly 58,000 students filling the seats in Williamson’s classrooms by 2027. There currently are 38,100 students, according to district figures.
At most, that growth would dictate the need for 11 new elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. In that scenario, the district wouldn’t add any additions to its schools. But if the county added on to its existing facilities, Williamson would still have to build eight new elementary schools, three new middle schools and two new high schools.
The Williamson County Commission will vote on an education impact tax fee in November. The impact fee would tax new home construction based on the square footage of the homes. Williamson had its issues with fully funding everything this year, having to work with Rep. Sargent to get additional funding from the BEP formula. The County Commission also raised the property tax rate this year, with funding schools approximately 74 percent of the budget, including debt.
In light of this discussion, each candidate indicated what they would like to see for the district and their stances on public education.
Sam Whitson – Republican candidate for District 65
If you look at my campaign from the beginning, support for public schools is something I’ve addressed from the beginning. I have five grandchildren in our public schools. They love their schools and teachers and staff. We are truly blessed in this county. Two of my daughter in laws have always been an vocal and active participant. My wife worked in the Franklin Special School District for years. We talk a lot about our county schools, but we also have the FSSD who do a great job in our county. We tend to forget about them in the conversation.
My wife and family have been actively involved in school board elections and that was recognized not only in the primary but in this election in being endorsed by the Tennessee Education Association. I appreciate greatly the job they have done.
I demonstrated support for public schools. My rhetoric demonstrated support for public schools.
I am going to lean on Charles Sargent to lead me through the BEP maze. We are down to 44 cents on the dollar. We used to have the highest paid teachers in the state and now we don’t.
I wouldn’t support anything that takes money away from our public schools in Williamson County, period.
Holly McCall – Democratic candidate for District 65
The BEP has not been updated since 2007. We are putting a lot of money in that doesn’t come back. I am not going to blow smoke and say that I have the solution. But it’s going to be a fight to get our fair share. I don’t have all the answers to education. We have great schools, but we are going to have to continue to address growth.
What I mostly hear from parents is they want to make sure their child gets the education for the college they want to go to. Mostly what I hear from administration is there is a real viable concern about vouchers. If someone wants to have their child going to a private schools, that’s fine. I don’t think charter schools are something we need here. From teachers I hear they want the state stop forcing the mandated tests down their throat.
We are lucky we’ve addressed the small issue, but the issues left are the pretty big ones.
Courtenay Rogers – Democratic candidate for District 63
Public education is top priority. When we had some drama a couple of years ago, I was made aware of some issues. I had a school board representative who wasn’t productive. It was important for me to be active and vocal. I led the charge. I started a petition. I got people out to school board meetings.
Schools are the backbone of our economy. It’s why we have Nissan and Mars coming to Williamson County. I want my daughter to have the best education possible. We have to fully fund our public schools.
From a state perspective, they say ‘Williamson County. Y’all are rich. You don’t need all this money from the state.’ We have amazing PTOS and a lot of times it’s the PTOs and parents who are making up funding. MY daughter goes to Moore and two years ago and they needed a new playground. The PTO and the parents raised almost $50,000 for a new playground. But what about the places who don’t have high wealth or PTOs or just throw money at the problem. I think as taxpayers its our responsibility and the state for us to step up and fight.
Glen Casada – Republican incumbent for District 63
I am looking forward to working with Charles Sargent to tweak the BEP. The nice thing about being in leadership is we have his ear. We need to address the way funding is done in the state of Tennessee.
I don’t object to accepting federal funds at all. The federal government is close to being bankrupt. The FBI and CIA have said its a on the verge of catastrophe of happening. I will continue to lobby our senators. We have a large living problem on the federal level that should scare us.
I don’t have any plans [for bills] but the governor is meeting with me in a couple of weeks. There will be some bills the governor has I will be carrying. The governor has implemented rigorous standards and has some standardized testing. We hold our teachers accountable.
But I want to give children who are stuck in failing schools out of those schools. The legislation wouldn’t affect Williamson. I am a firm believer in trying something gradually. I don’t know why anyone would oppose putting them in a charter or private schools in that district [with failing schools]. It’s to try to help them escape.
Comments from the candidates are in the order interviewed by WAKM 950 AM live.