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Emails spark questions of intent to privatize WCS


A controversial local Republican party campaign contributor and political activist appears to have sent emails this month to local elected officials and others that some citizens interpreted as an urge to privatize Williamson County Schools.

A controversial local Republican party campaign contributor and political activist appears to have sent emails this month to local elected officials and others that some citizens interpreted as an urge to privatize Williamson County Schools.

In the private email obtained by the Home Pages, Kent Davis sent a Sept. 5 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “On the school choice barricades.”

“It talks about the barriers to school choice and unions and school boards are high on the list,” Davis wrote of the WSJ article.

“With a new school board I believe there is an opportunity for Williamson County to lead the way in some new experiments which would be controlled within the County. The advantage is all students, parents, teachers, principals and others would be volunteers and would have a no-risk guarantee that they could return to their previous roles.”

It appears that the email was sent to 30 people, including the private email addresses of newly elected county school board members as well as the address of long-standing school board member Mark Gregory, and some county commissioners including newly elected commissioner Gregg Lawrence.

In an email dated Sept. 11, Lawrence forwarded Davis’ email to all 12 county school board members.

“Last week some of you may have received an excellent article from my friend Kent Davis, which I have attached. Kent has done us all a great service here by prompting us to consider possible alternatives to our current educational delivery model,” Lawrence wrote to school board members.

“Although the County Commission is not directly involved in school administration, we are responsible for the funding of the schools. As of 6-30-14, the county bond debt stands at over $514 million. By the time we finish the new Nolensville school campus, this debt is projected to increase to over $600 million. In addition to that, there is an unfunded accrued post-employment benefit liability of over $200 million that is projected to rise to over $400 million as county employees retire in the next decade or beyond that.”

Lawrence said he would like the board to consider the following question: “Is there a way that we can continue to provide some the best educational opportunities in America by using alternatives that don’t require us to build a new school building or two every year – all under the oversight of our school board?”

Lawrence’s email caused pushback from some, including WCS parent Kim Henke who wrote back on Sept. 11 to commissioners and school board members that the topic was beyond Lawrence’s purview as a commissioner.

Henke accused Lawrence of promoting Davis’ “desire to use WCS as a guinea pig in his privatization experiments,” her email reads.

“I’m baffled as to why so many newly-elected public officials are hell-bent on creating issues where there are none and trying to reform a system that isn’t broken. I believe you would be hard-pressed to find WCS families who support diverting their taxpayer dollars to private and for-profit charter schools. Successful public schools are vital to our community and our economy. Let’s work together to make them even better.”

Lawrence told the Home Page he was not proposing anything by his email other than dialogue about ways to mitigate the growth of county debt. He also asked if there are ways in which the county can use its technical resources to “combine virtual learning and class time” to potentially moderate new school construction.

“There is already an alternative virtual school available in Williamson County, so the idea is not new,” he said.

“There aren’t many students enrolled in it right now. Could we enhance the curriculum and do a better job of integrating those students with the local schools so that more families would choose that option? Perhaps we could assign those students tutors or offer some classes that began after the normal school day ends to give them more camaraderie with other students to combine with the online curriculum. If we could make this alternative program more attractive, then more families might elect it and that would take the pressure off the public schools to build more brick and mortar.”

Lawrence said if the school board makes any changes, he is confident those changes will keep WCS “on the leading edge of educational excellence.”

School board members had varying opinions on the recent bout of emails.

“I know nothing about those emails; I have not seen that,” said Dan Cash, elected this year to represent District 2.

“To be honest, I don’t read a lot of that stuff, because we just need to get down to business and figure out how to represent 35,000 kids.”

New District 6 member Jay Galbreath said he saw Lawrence’s email to the board as nothing more than encouragement to have dialogue, which he, too, supports.

“People can read into it what they want, but I saw it as [Lawrence] raising the question of how to save funds for schools,” Galbreath said. He added that he can only speak for himself, and that he has no intention of privatizing WCS, but supports finding ways to fund schools, given the county’s continued growth.

Ken Peterson, District 1, thought the emails from Kent Davis reflect the values and intentions of the school board’s newest representatives.

“Certainly most of the emails that come from Kent Davis have been attacking [Superintendent of Schools Mike] Looney and pushing vouchers, and as we know, the board is going to push a Christian agenda into the school system which, of course, brings its own issues,” Peterson said.

“Absolutely those six new board members are part of that group and have a very different view of what public education is and what they want it to be. Privatization is at the forefront of their agenda.”

Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at jess@brentwoodhomepage.com or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.

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