By LANDON WOODROOF
At a meeting in August, Brentwood’s City Commission expressed support for conducting a feasibility study on the possibility of creating a new city school district.
Some Brentwood parents formed a group, Study Brentwood, for the express purpose of advocating for such a study.
Thursday morning, city staff updated city commissioners on their progress so far in bringing that study to fruition.
City Manager Kirk Bednar said that a call for qualifications issued to find a company to conduct the study had resulted in just one response.
Southern Educational Strategies, Inc. is the same company that performed a similar study in Shelby County a couple of years ago when several municipalities there were considering forming their own school districts.
Now that the company has been identified, Bednar said that the main question before the City Commission at this point has to do with defining the scope and purpose of the study.
“I think the question that needs to be answered now before we go forward … with the next step in the process is what’s the definition of feasible?” he asked. “What is it that we need out of a study that says it is or isn’t feasible? I don’t know what that is. Is it purely dollar issues? Is it issues around the quality of education, programs that a city school district would provide? For them to tell us what a city school district looks like and what a study would cost we need to tell them what we want out of a study.”
He went on to say that some important questions related to a new school district would likely be unanswerable. For instance, the issue of who would own Brentwood’s public school buildings if the city decided to form a new district is unclear and could not definitively be determined beforehand, Bednar said. That is due to the fact that there is no settled case law on this topic.
Bednar suggested that the City Commission sit down with consultants from SES and talk through what they want and need out of the study.
Commissioner Betsy Crossley said she would like to seek input from residents between now and the time of that meeting. That would allow commissioners to formulate questions about the study based on the most pressing concerns of the Brentwood community.
Some discussion was given to the possible ramifications of a new school district. Commissioner Anne Dunn asked how the city school district could affect state funding. The state affords counties education funding based on an ability to pay calculation. Williamson County, due to its relative affluence, gets much less than some other counties in Tennessee because the state’s calculations show it could afford to pay more for education than it does.
Dunn wondered if Brentwood would get an even smaller amount of money per student, since it is the wealthiest city in the county.
Bednar raised the point that a new school district would have a huge impact on the city’s operations.
“Creating a city school district is a huge undertaking and we need to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “And if there’s a singularly defined reason, is there [a] way to attack that other than creating a completely new city school district, which will dramatically change the way this city operates in every other capacity?”
One of those impacts would be on the city’s budgeting process. Usually, the city does not budget the full amount of revenue it takes in each year, allowing it to grow its reserves. Bednar said that practice would no longer be possible with a new school district.
“Those days are over,” he said. “That’s a fact of life from a city school district standpoint.”
Assistant City Manager Jay Evans pointed out that, if the city did start a new district, funding for schools would compete with things like traffic and construction projects.
At the end of the meeting, the plan was to set up a meeting with SES consultants some time after the holidays.