By MATT BLOIS
After a tie vote, Brentwood will not be funding a study investigating the cost of setting up a municipal school system.
The City Commission voted 3-3 on the proposal at a meeting on Tuesday night. The tie vote—with Commissioner Regina Smithson absent—means the city won’t fund the study.
A group of residents spoke in favor of funding the study. Some wore stickers to show their support. Several other residents questioned the value of such a study, arguing that it would likely be a waste of city resources.
“The county school district has become so big that we’re starting to see the student and teacher experiences diminish,” Brentwood resident Mandie Nimitz said. “We don’t know if a municipal school district is the solution. That’s the point of doing the research.”
The company Southern Education Strategies would have studied how the city would operate a school system, and would also address how to pay for it.
Operating a school district would certainly cost a lot of money. But James Mitchel, a representative from Southern Educational Strategies, explained that funds from the state and county would pay for a large portion of the budget.
“Most municipalities contribute less than 5 percent of the budget of municipal school systems,” he said. “Don’t be concerned about the large budget numbers that you hear because the money will follow the children.”
Commissioner Anne Dunn voted against funding the study because she said it wouldn’t address one of the most critical questions—what would happen to the school buildings after forming a new district?
“The biggest questions are still going to be questions when this study is over,” she said.
City Manager Kirk Bednar said it isn’t clear what would happen to the school buildings. The company that would have conducted the study didn’t have enough information to give the city an answer.
The Tennessee Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations—a state agency—is researching the effects on public education of laws about counties with multiple school districts.
The agency will complete that study by the end of 2019. Then, it will present the findings to the Education Committees of the Tennessee House and Senate. The legislature could use that information to modify the current laws governing municipal school districts.
Vice Mayor Mark Gorman said he voted for the proposal because most of the growth in Williamson County is happening outside of Brentwood, but Brentwood residents still have to chip in.
“When you look at the rest of the county there is unbridled and uncontrolled growth, ” he said. “We’re having to compete with those other areas that are growing at such a rapid pace, and as a result there is a disproportionate amount of dollars that come back to Brentwood.”
At one point, Commissioner Rhea Little suggested deferring the proposal to a meeting when all the Commissioners would be present, but he was outvoted.
Commissioner Betsy Crossley and Mayor Jill Burgin agreed with Dunn. They didn’t think that the study would answer some of the most critical questions.
“A large piece of information–the ownership and transfer of the buildings–will not be known to us,” Burgin said. “I can’t justify the cost for a study that I don’t support.”