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Deakins guest at Farragut Republican Club meeting


One obvious consensus emerged from a recent Concord Farragut Republican Club meeting: Even among that group’s well-informed, politically-savvy and community-conscious members, confusion still reigns supreme on issues surrounding the planned $50 million Hardin Valley High School.

Officials hope, that long-awaited facility, by 2008, will ease classroom crowding at other West Knox public schools.

Thomas A. Deakins, 35, of Farragut, the Knox County School Board’s newly-elected District 6 representative, told fellow Republicans he faces a steep learning curve on understanding high school financing and similar complex board issues.

But the father of four, a solutions designer for Oracle computers, promised hard work to comprehend and help resolve district problems — chiefly, classroom crowding evident at Farragut, Bearden and Karns high schools.

“It may be bad timing, bad luck — or just bad karma,” Deakins said. But funding is [$6 million] short to open and equip the new school whose completion was planned for 2007.

“We have some issues,” said Deakins (pictured above at left speaking with Bill Johns and Karen Carson, School Board District 5 representative), soon to represent Farragut, Ball Camp, Hardin Valley and Solway communities on the board. Rising projected construction costs for the school, he said, had been blamed on factors ranging from Hurricane Katrina recovery to surging fuel prices and Chinese demand for construction materials.

Couple those with 2005 site selection delays and uncertainty about zoning for a new school’s pupils, Deakins said, and a complex picture emerges.

Among those attending the meeting at the Gondolier Restaurant were Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond, Commissioner-elect Greg “Lumpy” Lambert, Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Andrew “Andy” Jackson VI and Carson.

Deakins thanked the group for recent campaign support and said he wants weekly status updates from Public Building Authority project managers on progress toward the high school for which ground was broken earlier in 2006. School completion, he said, remains essential to ease crowding and “make public education the best it can be.”

Deakins, with two children in Farragut Primary School, promised to “be in the schools, talking with parents and teachers to understand all the issues first-hand.” But he called Hardin Valley High “the big issue” as West Knox’s first new high school in 25 years.

Johns, club vice president, told Deakins and Carson school problems surfaced “because your predecessors dropped the ball in planning thirty years ago.” West Knox growth was evident, Johns said; but previous board members did little planning in response.

Deakins promised to use consulting experience to clarify and resolve issues. Improving board relations with Knox County Commission, which funds school budgets, would help, he said.

“I feel a responsibility to ensure this school’s done right,” he said. “We’ll have a better learning environment, if our kids can go to better schools.”

Jackson, whose daughters attend Karns schools, said he prefers hearing less talk about a proposed Hardin Valley “academy school” and more emphasis on grassroots education.

But Carson said transfer of 600 Farragut pupils to a new high school would require offering academics that would better attract them. An academy school, she said, would offer students needed “rigor, relationship [with teachers] and relevance in education.”

Deakins said he shared Jackson’s sentiments until he attended a recent “summit” meeting to discuss Hardin Valley’s future. Now, he added, he better understands the idea of an academy that would have “learning communities.”

“It’s not the same as a magnet school,” he said. “We’d lose nothing in relieving crowding.”

Carson said the school was proposed for 1,600 students, but growth since meant the school must serve 2,100. Though the school is called a $40 million facility, she said, rising costs, coupled with a $4 million geothermal heating unit, bring its total nearer $50 million.

Hammond urged those concerned with the school’s future to attend a Knox County Commission meeting Monday, Aug. 28. He would be just one among 19 commissioners voting, he said, but he opposes proposals to phase in its student body, one class per year, between 2009 and 2012.

“Before I vote another penny, that [phase-in idea] must be rethought,” he said.

Farragut High School also needs renovation, he noted. “It’s more than a building issue. It’s an education issue,” Hammond added.

Deakins agreed that opening Hardin Valley for 1,300 or fewer pupils would do little to ease crowded classrooms.

“I may not be the guy to solve all these problems,” he added. “But I do bring a fresh approach to the table.”

 

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