From left: Mayor Ken Moore, Mayor Rogers Anderson, Dr. Mike Looney, Dr. David Snowden, Matt Largen, Mindy Tate// Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
At Franklin Tomorrow’s final Breakfast with the Mayors of the year, Williamson County and Franklin mayors were joined by school district officials to discuss the future of county schools.
Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson first took the stage at Rolling Hills Community Church to describe what a sales tax increase would look like, and to urge constituents to vote in favor of the referendum that will go in front of the county commission on Monday, Nov. 13.
Anderson pointed out that two-thirds of the current county budget goes to fund schools. Though a proposed educational impact fee is still being challenged in court, Anderson said schools still are drawing a blank for funding.
“We shifted some pennies around to help pay for some things, so now we’re faced with the next battle,” Anderson said of last year’s budget before asking the community to vote yes, should the sales tax referendum make it past the county commission, a likely prospect.
“I relish the idea of giving the people the opportunity,” he said, to vote, “but having to pay for things through increased taxes is always a little sour note; it’s a sour taste in our mouths.”
The increase, which would raise sales taxes in the county from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent, would help fund renovation and construction for new Williamson County schools by producing between $20 to $22 million each year, Anderson said.
Half of the money from the current 2.25 percent sales tax goes back to the coffers of the municipality in which the sale was made, while the other half goes to the school system.
Anderson said each of the cities in the county had agreed to give up their share of the revenue generated by a potential .5 percent tax increase to Williamson County schools for the next three years.
“Three years just helps us in how we pay for these new buildings,” Anderson said later in a question and answer series. “The trigger to all of this is getting the message out.”
The city of Fairview is already at a 9.75 total sale tax rate, Anderson said later, though city officials have agreed to surrender .5 percent from other revenue sources.
Mayor Anderson and Mayor Ken Moore were joined by Williamson County School Superintendent Mike Looney, Franklin Special School District Director of Schools David Snowden and President and Chief Executive Officer of Williamson, Inc. Chamber of Commerce Matt Largen.
Both Looney and Snowden presented slideshows highlighting the growth and achievements of their respective school districts.
Looney gave an update on the schools currently being constructed and renovated in the county’s school district, which include the new Thompsons Station middle and elementary schools, and a renovation of Franklin and Page high schools, among others.
He also praised student readiness, noting that student’s ACT scores had been increasing steadily over the past decade. Williamson County students also scored far higher on the TNReady state achievement test than their peers from other Tennessee school districts.
As for the sales tax increase, Looney said it was desperately needed: over $600 million is the projected future cost of buildings to house the 57,000 projected students the school district will serve in the next decade.
Snowden gave an overview of the community the Franklin Special School District serves, one in which 38 percent of the 3,700 students in kindergarten through 8th grade come from families that live in poverty.
“Poor students can learn, just like any other students,” he said. “It just takes some additional effort, some resources, but we’re very proud of the work we do with the students that need some additional support.”
The population of Franklin’s Special School District, he pointed out, is also more diverse, with around 53 percent white, 25 percent Hispanic or Latino, 15 percent African-American, and 6 percent Asian-American students.
“Our ethnicity, we believe, is a strength,” Snowden said.
With the proposed tax increase, Anderson said Franklin Special Schools stand to benefit as well, though it’s a different process to dole out tax dollars to the smaller district.
The event’s host, Franklin Tomorrow, is an organization focused on engaging the community on questions of growth and other community issues.
The next Breakfast with the Mayors will be held on January 30.