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Ragsdale to host ‘big four’


Knox County Mayor Michael Ragsdale and his staff will embark on another “first” for the county this weekend.

Ragsdale will host the mayors of Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties for what has been called a gathering of the “Big Four” — the largest counties in the state — for a meeting intended to make a positive difference in the lives of schoolchildren.

Staff from Ragsdale’s office, including Dwight Van de Vate, senior communications director, spent time in Nashville earlier this month working toward just that. In attendance were Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley.

Cooley was asked to participate as “a courtesy call to make him aware that we were planning this meeting and to seek his guidance and suggestions as to how we should proceed,” Van de Vate said. “We hope to have some form of legislation ready for introduction in the two thousand-six legislative session.”

The meeting will focus on preparing legislation that asks the state to take another look at its Basic Education Program or B.E.P. — the formula that essentially determines how much sales tax revenue is returned back to individual counties for education.

“The B-E-P actually grew out of litigation from rural counties and small systems claiming there was disparity in education funding,” Van de Date said. “Over the years, it has gotten adjusted and refined and it has really created disparity for the urban counties. It’s placing students in the urban counties at a disadvantage and so we’ve identified that as the single most important item in our legislative agenda.”

In other school news, Knox County Board of Education member Chuck James (6th District) said he is pleased with the progress made on Knox County’s next high school.

“I think they’re pretty close to being done to bring a full set of drawings back to the full Board,” James said. The new school will be located in James’ district.

Karen Carson (5th District) addressed school issues with the West Knox County Homeowner’s Association at its August meeting; she discussed Knox County Schools issues including the new school. Carson has been among Board members who have provided input during weekly meetings with the builders. Carson represented the Board at a meeting last month between KCS senior staff and Jeff Galyon, senior project manager from Knox County Public Building Authority charged to oversee construction. They discussed such design details as building the media center on the ground floor versus the second floor; how many foreign language classrooms to build; and the square footage needed in the band and choral departments.

Groundbreaking should occur at the Hardin Valley site at the end of this month or early October, Carson said, adding that she has suggested the Board consider which students will be rezoned to fill the school as soon as possible.

James disagrees.

“If we start talking about the zones now, it may all change,” he said. “So, let’s don’t alarm anybody right now. Let’s wait until at least next summer and that’s still gonna be two years out.”

Carson also was outspoken about the design of the new school early in the planning process.

“We are trying right now to look at opening the school to meet the needs today but having a school that’s adaptable to the future goals,” she said about its design.

“What if we didn’t do any sports facilities here?” she asked. “And took all that extra money and ... we make this school to where kids know that if you’re gonna come to this high school, you’re not going to have the ability to be on a football team but it will be an outstanding science, math and fine arts academy.

“I think if there’s ever a community where parents would support something like that, it would be this West Knox area,” she said, adding, “I think we’re not ready for it yet.”

However, Carson added, the Great Schools Partnership — another education program backed by Ragsdale and supported by such visionaries as multi-billionaire Bill Gates — will be looking to the academy school concept as an option for future KCS students.

Knox County Commissioner Craig Leuthold (5th district) also attended the homeowners’ meeting and provided insight into BEP inequities.

“If you go back to nineteen-ninety and you look at the rural counties, the middle counties [versus] the more urban counties ... their real property taxes have dropped, the money they have put toward schools has dropped where ours has gone up,” he said. “And so what we are doing is having to supplement their money.

“These larger more urban counties are making up the difference. You’ve got counties out there … [politicians] that aren’t willing to take the political heat it takes to raise the taxes and stand up and say ‘we’re gonna make sure we take care of our future and our kids.’”

Van de Vate wants to make sure citizens understand that taking care of “our kids,” doesn’t mean taking necessary funds away from others.

“What we’re looking to do is find a way to correct the disparity that is putting the urban counties at a disadvantage without doing anything that negatively impacts the rural counties that are so dependent on B-E-P funds,” he said.

 

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