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Ragsdale speaks at Chamber networking

It was somewhat of a “who’s who” among West Knox County officials at the Farragut/West Knox Chamber networking at Fox Den Country Club last Thursday, Feb. 3.

At the top of the list was guest speaker Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, who spent about 30 minutes addressing the crowd.

Cheryl Gaillard, Chamber executive assistant, reported more than 120 Chamber members in attendance, adding that networks typically draw about 40 to 50 members. Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond played a part in the out-of-the-ordinary early-morning gathering.

“With all of the issues and all of the questions that people have, I thought

it would be a good idea if the mayor would come and speak,” Hammond said.

Ragsdale said, “As much as we need a new West Knox County high school, I have to tell you I think our top priority is a new Gibbs Elementary School.”

Ragsdale added. “It’s the worst school facility I’ve ever come across.”

As for a new high school, the mayor reiterated when a county task force studied overcrowding last year and determined, “if we didn’t do something about a new West Knox County high school, we were headed for a train wreck situation,” he said. Ragsdale stressed the importance of finding land for the school quickly and alluded to the required Commission approval.

Addressing Lindsey, he suggested, “move as fast as you can; I feel rather confident that you’ve got three votes here in this room to approve about anything that makes sense.”

Ragsdale praised the Knox County Board of Education for approving Lewis Group Architects as the firm that will design the school; a vote was taken at its monthly meeting held the day before the Chamber networking. It’s the same firm that built A.L. Lotts and Hardin Valley Elementary schools. Lewis Group, Lindsey said, has historically brought projects in on time or early and often under budget and were “open and free with information.”

The mayor also pinpointed Cedar Bluff Primary and Karns High schools as schools with facility issues.

Ragsdale praised test scores in West Knox County as “very good and getting better,” describing A.L. Lotts Elementary School as “exceptional.”

Ragsdale outlined the “Every School a Great School” program designed to bring together community and business leaders as well as the public to improve all Knox County schools.

“We need to work together even more closely and put our political interests aside and put the interests of our fifty-two thousand Knox County school children at the forefront,” Ragsdale said.

One initiative of the newly-formed foundation would be introducing performance-based pay for teachers. As to this goal, the mayor engaged the Chamber: “how would your business do if the best and the worst employee were paid the same amount of money?”

After the networking Commis-sioner Craig Leuthold reiterated the need to fund education.

“If we as a society in the long run want to save money, we need to spend money on education, we need to make everybody a productive citizen. If [students] grow up and get a good paying job to support their families rather than rely on public assistance, then obviously that saves us money,” he said.

The commissioner shared his frustrations with those who challenged funding of a new West Knox County school, especially when generalizing the economic status of Farragut families.

“Some people said, ‘we’re not gonna spend the money out in Farragut because parents can afford to do something.’ Well, not all parents can. … Those kids are being doubly discriminated against.”

Ragsdale also discussed Project Grad and Read with Me programs, the latter functions with 400 volunteers, including Ragsdale, who spend one morning a week reading to second- and third- grade students. “I couldn’t go to Farragut High School and help kids in a calculus class.” Plus, he added, “not a single child at Sterchi Elementary School has ever complained to me about the Wheel Tax.”

Ragsdale’s speech concluded with a laundry list of additional Knox County successes including job creation and increased senior services before taking questions from the audience. One listener asked whether an impact fee could be levied to offset the cost of new schools. Ragsdale responded, “I’m real hopeful we won’t need [a new tax] for awhile.”


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