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OUT-OF-COUNTY STUDENTS TUITION LETTER

DRAWS FIRE FROM ONE COMMISSIONER WITH BOE FAMILY TIES

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BY: PAT HUNTER

Monday’s Aug. 8th Commission meeting agenda included Commissioner Don Miller’s “Request Consideration of Approving Sending a Letter to the Loudon County School Board Requesting their Reconsideration of Charging Tuition for Out-of-County Students (Excluding Children of Teachers). Two other letters from Miller were also on the agenda. Miller withdrew one letter to TVA, while another letter from the Loudon County Air Quality Task Force to polluter Kimberly Clark easily passed with no objections.

Commissioner Don Miller’s draft letter to the Loudon County Board of Education drew heavy criticism from Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough who objected to the letter and data. Miller’s letter request was for the school board to reconsider charging tuition for out of county students in view of the new 20 cent property tax increase, and proposed new school buildings. Don Miller's vote was key to passage of the 20 cent property tax hike, which did not sit well with half of his constituents.

Many residents have voiced their concerns and objections to out-of-county students attending county schools, tuition free. These concerns have been aired at school board meetings, public hearings about the budget, and commission meetings while the school board has turned a blind eye. At one recent public hearing meeting, one objection came from a Tellico Village property owner after school director Jason Vance complained about bringing his son to Loudon County schools for seven years, and no new school buildings. Vance was advocating for the property tax increase to fund the school building plan. Director Jason Vance is a property owner and resident of Monroe County. Monroe County schools has built new schools and renovations during the same period. 

Commissioner Yarbrough began her litany of objections by asking Commissioner Miller to verify his numbers. What numbers asked Miller? The one’s attached to your letter Yarbrough replied. Miller tried to explain how he went to the Tennessee Education (Report Card) website to obtain his data.

Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough continued to drill Miller, has this been verified by our department of education. Miller tried to explain that the school board could look at the same website. He assumed that the Tennessee Education website was correct, and “if they’re not they can change them”.  She explained that before she voted on Miller’s letter she wanted the Board of Education to look at the data and she wanted the data verified before Commission approved the letter.

Commissioner Austin Shaver asked, your numbers aren't part of the letter are they; the only numbers that you propose to send referred to the 20 cent tax increase. Miller responded that he had put the other information for the commission workshop to try to explain why it was not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing depending on the assumptions that were made. Yarbrough was concerned about the “assumptions” that would be made and she insisted that the numbers be verified by the local board of education. He insisted that he was not making any assumptions in the letter.

Commissioner Meers added that Miller had given a hypothetical number of $3000 and for the school board to seriously look at a dollar figure and possibly addressing that. Miller read a portion of the letter because he said that he did not refer to any numbers in the letter. He was concerned about the financial aspects of accepting out of county at no charge. The school board has already made a decision on that matter Yarbrough argued.

But when all the votes were counted Commission easily approved sending the letter to the board of education by an eight to two margin with the two no votes coming from commissioners Sharon Yarbrough and Brian Jenkins.

Did Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough represent the concerns, viewpoints, and objections of 5th District constituents, or those of her spouse, school board Vice Chairman Gary Ubben?

A 20 cent tax hike was just voted on by commission to pay for new school buildings. What do you think? Should out-of-county students attend Loudon County Schools tuition free? School personnel have stated at public meetings that schools are needed because of over-crowding conditions and some must teach class in closets, etc (areas not designated as school rooms).  Click School board members (contact & directory).

Pictured Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough & spouse BOE Vice Chairman Gary Ubben

(NOTE: Vice-Chairman Gary Ubben, new Director Jason Vance, and school board member Van Shaver, were all three present at Monday’s Commission meeting but none spoke publicly about Miller’s letter.)

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08-11-2011