By JOHN McBRYDE
On a night when all seemed rather preoccupied with allegations of racism and letters sent to parents insisting teachers and students are being indoctrinated, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education managed to approve the 2019-20 school budget Monday by a 12-0 vote that came with no reluctance.
That was the case for the general purpose school fund of $386,248,331, the central cafeteria fund of $13,883,216, the extended school program fund of $7,066,258, and the capital request of $13,254,951.
“You can feel that number,” Eric Welch, 10th District, said of the general purpose school fund amount, the largest ever requested in the district’s history. “It’s a big number.
“But it’s important to remember that Tennessee is 45th in the country in what we spend per student in educating them. As for Williamson County, everyone assumes we’re the gold standard in performance. But we are in the bottom half of Tennessee in what we spend per student. We are in the bottom half of a state ranked 45th in the nation.
“So when you see that number, realize the concept for it as well. It is an extremely lean budget, … one of the leanest in the country for one of the best-performing school districts in the country.”
Board members mostly had their say on the budget during the March 14 work session when the thick document was presented by WCS Superintendent Mike Looney and the district’s CFO, Leslie Holman. They didn’t have much to add Monday night.
“The most important thing that a community can do is to provide a free and adequate and fair and equitable public education, and access to it for all,” Brad Fiscus, 4th District, said during discussion. “And while this number seems large, know that we have the ability and probably the need to do even more. I ask that we approve this and continue to strive for excellence.”
The budget will next go to a joint education and budget committee meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners on April 15.
Monday’s budget vote came after several speakers had their say on the district’s recent run-ins on racial insensitivity from teachers, through choices of field trips, or incidents of bullying. Three speakers echoed concerns that had been voiced in letters sent to parents from the Williamson County Republican Party, stating that cultural competency training videos were being used to indoctrinate teachers and students.
Looney summarized the situation, and all 12 board members followed with comments during an hour-long segment of the meeting.
“Cultural competency training that our district has engaged in is important work and it can certainly evoke strong emotions and responses from everyone, which is why it’s important tonight to add some clarity to what we’ve been doing,” Looney said. “Let me assure you we have no intentions to indoctrinate teachers, students or employees in Williamson County Schools. This is not a liberal or a conservative agenda. This is really about being responsive to concerns parents and employees have brought to us, relating to how our employees are treating the students that we serve.
“Everybody wants to be like Williamson County Schools,” he continued. “We have awesome teachers and administrators, and some of the brightest students I’ve ever encountered.
“However, if we’re going to continue down this trek of excellence, it’s also important for us to acknowledge shortcomings that we have and address them head-on, and engage in honest debate and conversations about how we might improve to make progress as a school district.”