​School Board Weighs Middle School Options; Donates Land for College of Applied Technology

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“Property taxes would increase,” if new middle schools were built on the existing sites, said Director of Schools Amie Lonas at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Franklin County School Board, addressing questions raised in November when the board grappled with the problems posed by the county’s two aging middle schools. The board also approved transferring the deed for the old Franklin County High School property to the Franklin County Commission for construction of a Tennessee College of Applied Technology.
In the scenario of options developed by the engineering firm Oliver, Little, and Gipson, the cost of building new middle schools on the existing sites ($48 million to $55 million) was significantly higher than the cost of renovating the schools ($35 million to $37 million) or building a new combined middle school ($32 million to $37 million). The debt for the new high school would be paid in full in the 2020–21 school year, Lonas said, meaning funds for that debt could be put toward the middle school project. But the available amount would not be sufficient to cover the cost if the board decided in favor of building new middle schools on the existing sites.
Lonas also responded to several other questions raised by the board in November.
“Historically, enrollment has been decreasing,” Lonas said. Current combined enrollment at North and South middle schools is 1,068, which is 107 less students than in the 2010–11 school year.
Looking to utility expenses, Lonas said current heating and air conditioning costs average $1.39 to $1.44 per square foot, which does not include heating the gym and support areas. At Coffee County Middle School, which has a newer, more efficient HVAC system, the average cost is $1.29 per square foot, including heating and cooling for the gym and support areas. East Lincoln Elementary in Tullahoma uses a geothermal system, which costs significantly less, $1.05 per square foot.
“With geothermal, up-front costs are quite a bit higher, though,” Lonas pointed out.
Turning to a request from the Franklin County Commission, the board unanimously approved transferring the deed for the 8.5 acre site of the old high school to Franklin County.
“Franklin County has been awarded more than $4 million in community block grants for construction of a Tennessee College of Applied Technology,” said board member Christine Hopkins, who worked behind the scenes to see the project to fruition. Franklin County will contribute $1 million towards the construction of the facility. When the facility is completed, the Tennessee Board of Regents will assume ownership and responsibility for maintenance and operation.
In other business, Lonas proposed salary supplements for certified teachers meeting educational specialist requirements, coaches and coaching staff, and administrators.
“We do a good job of recruiting qualified new teachers straight out of college,” Lonas said, but she stressed the need to increase the incentive for teachers who pursue education beyond the master’s degree level. She recommended a graduated salary increase over 20 years, estimating the cost at $15,000 annually.
The supplements for coaches and coaching staff were necessary both to keep qualified coaches in the system and to make the Franklin County schools more competitive when recruiting personnel, Lonas explained. The pay scale proposed by Lonas called for a salary increase every other year. The funding would come from monies budgeted for salaries and wages under the athletics program.
Lonas also proposed supplementing administrators’ salaries with increases during a three-year period. Lonas estimated the cost at $41,000 the first year and $13,900 for the next two years.
The board approved the salary supplements in all three areas for the term of the 2017–18 school year.
Updating the board on the Drug Education and Screening committee, North Middle School Principal Stanley Bean said, “More than a thousand drug tests were conducted county wide and only one student tested positive.”
“I’m not so naïve as to think, there is only one student using drugs,” Bean acknowledged. “The students know the testing schedule.”
“But our goal isn’t to catch them,” Bean insisted. “It’s to prevent students from doing the wrong thing.” He stressed the importance of drug education featuring “successful people who beat drugs and alcohol.”
On Bean’s recommendation, the board approved a revision to the drug testing policy bringing the middle school policy in line with the high school policy to stipulate a student would not be banned from sports unless the student tested positive three times.
The board also approved an amendment to the bus contract allowing drivers to transport students to a different location in the afternoon for after-school care and similar needs if parental permission was provided.
The board meets next on March 6 for a working session. The next regular board meeting is March 13 at Decherd Elementary.