School Building Program Update
By: Pat Hunter
October 31, 2008
The School Board workshop was held at the Tech Center. Guests were invited to soup, beverage and dessert by Lois Snow and the other hostesses. Various programs are housed at the Tech Center on Harrison Rd., and the School Board received an invitation to tour the facility before the workshop meeting.
Roll Call - Present: Van Shaver (D-5), Craig Simon (D-7), Gary Ubben (D-5), Larry Proaps (D-2), Lisa Russell (D-3),& Chairman Leroy Tate (D-4)
Shaver (l) Craig Ubben Proaps, Russell Honeycutt, Tate (R)
Absent: Bill Marcus (D-1 Loudon), Scotty Newman (D-1 Loudon), Steve Harrelson (D-6) and Bobby Johnson, Jr., (D-2). The media was not present for Honeycuttís School Building Plan Update.
Marcus Newman Johnson Harrelson
Earlier this year, the proposed $144 Million (est.) School Building Plan was sent back to the School Board by the Budget Committee. This plan never made it to the Commission for a formal yes or no vote. But, at the Sept. 11, 2008 School Board meeting, new school board member Lisa Russell led a discussion about the School Building plan and new School Director Honeycutt was to have a plan ready to discuss by the November or December School Board meeting.
The meeting was lengthy but informative and the very last item on the Oct. 30th School Board workshop meeting agenda, was an update to the School Building Program by Director Wayne Honeycutt. He gave a 20 minute update about the School Building Program, mostly background information and his philosophy.
Honeycutt said that there were several areas that he needed to approach the Board. He wants to be more consistent in the grade configuration. He felt that there were too many configurations in the present school system such as Pre-K-4, Pre-K-8, Pre-K-5, 6-8, 9-12, Pre-K-12. He didnít want to blame anyone for that problem because he was sure that there was many factors that led to those decisions, over many years.
Honeycutt mentioned that he looked at student enrollment and population over the last 10-years. We may be growing but we are growing slowly, he said.
Some of the growth was due to out-of-county students but the School Board made a policy to grandfather the ones that were presently in the schools and not to take any new ones, so that somewhat helped. The overcrowding that we have in our schools is not necessarily the issue of too many kids. Itís one of what we have had to do over the years in order to do the programs that we have to do, he explained.
According to Honeycutt, several years ago, the State changed the student teacher ratio; K-3 could only have an average of 20 students per class and on up. By doing that, if you could only have 20 but you had 25 students, then you had to add another teacher to keep the ratio down that led to space issues in school districts. Where do you put the teacher and class; we started putting them in trailers, in closets, and in areas that were not necessarily designated for a classroom. But then we started adding other programs to this such as the RTI program, Special Education, ELL kids, counselors, reading intervention, Pre-K, etc.
What we ended up with is overcrowding by increasing students and programs and teachers and running out of space. At the same time, by growing slowly, you get to the point that you say, this school is growing slowly but not enough to the point of a new school building so what do we do. Lets renovate it or lets add to it, explained Honeycutt. Some schools have had numerous renovations, four, five or six times such as Greenback School while other schools have numerous new classrooms. Honeycutt thought that some were not designed very well and weíve got issues there.
He reiterated, we may be growing, but we are growing very slowly but we have added a lot of programs, which end up with needing a lot of space. So what do we need to do? First thing Honeycutt wants to do is decide what kind of school district do we want to be?
Whatís going to be the easiest configuration that is consistent? There are a lot of different types of configurations but if we look at our schools the best route in Honeycuttís opinion is to have as many Pre-K through 8 grades as possible. Currently, Philadelphia has that configuration. At Steekee Elementary School, classrooms could be added to be a Pre-K Ė 8. Looking at Loudon Elem. and Ft. Loudon Middle School a major renovation could be done there. That configuration works well until we get to the Northern part of the county. Thatís one piece of the puzzle that we havenít nailed down. There is a large population at Eaton and North Middle. There could be an expansion at Highland Park School but land would be needed. That would take some pressure from Eaton and North Middle.
We have used every nock and cranny, closets and dressing rooms. Overall, the school system has done an excellent job regarding academics given the circumstances and Honeycutt congratulated the teachers and administrators for a job well done under the circumstances, which they have. Speaking about the space problems, he said that it was pitiful and Loudon County was behind. Something needs to be done and fairly quickly. Itís going to take 7-9 months before anything can get started building wise, Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt wants the School Board to think about some issues. Currently, there are four different architectural firms, which he thinks that this should be reduced to one or two firms. There is only one construction management firm and Merit is the only construction firm, at this time.
He spoke about the four firms and gave examples such as one architectural firm did plans for Greenback School and another firm was paid money for services for Highland Park and Ft. Loudon School. One is supposed to draw plans for a proposed new school (middle or high school) in the Northern end on the Hwy 321 property, and one currently being used at the Loudon High School auditorium. His recommendation is to have one firm but he wants the School Board to think about this issue.
Pre-K-8 is the best configuration, which Honeycutt likes. He likes the community school approach given the research, transportation issues and close relationship between teachers and students. When you look at most of the research, the Pre-K-8 gets good print because of high student achievement. Any time that a kid needs to change schools, Honeycutt mentioned, then you will see a drop in their academics. Its just there.
Over the years, the School Board has worked on many plans and there will not be a perfect plan but the School Board has to agree on one plan, vote on it and support. The School Board has not been able to convince Loudon County Commission. Support is the word.
How do you want to sell the School Plan to the public? What approach does the School Board want to take? Do we want to involve Commission in the planning process? He thinks that itís a Board function. He thinks that business and industry should also be involved. Honeycutt would attend club meetings but the School Board has to work together. Honeycutt said that he thinks that it is his responsibility to sell and defend the plan to Commission, Capital Projects and Budget Committee.
We have picked a bad time in the economy to do right now but we have to move forward.
What will be our approach when we go to commission? He gave an example, do we want $100 Million right now, or do we look at doing it in stages 1, 2 and 3 and costs such as $30 Million etc.; that's more logical way? Some commissioners have approached him and told Honeycutt that itís a one shot deal, go for all of it but we still donít need $100 Million all at one time. The bond market will also be examined.
Things for the School Board to think about:
3 new schools Ė 3 different areas of county
Honeycutt thinks that we need three new buildings in three different areas of the county, thatís the teaser. Shaver asked I hope that youíre going to tell us, which three that we need.
Former school board member Freddy Walker asked, what size, what size or number do you want in that Pre-K, is there an optimum number of students. Honeycutt agreed thatís a good point; he replied in the 600 to 800 students range for an elementary, not bigger than that. But, he needs to look at BEP and size issues, would also be factored into the decision. More to come, later.