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Academy/Comprehensive schools explained at BHS meeting


A hearing on plans for the new Hardin Valley High School, held Thursday, Aug. 24, at Bearden High School, saw concerned school system patrons rallying support behind a Knox County School Board request for an added $6 million from Knox County Commission to fund the $50 million facility fully.

School board members said added funding would ensure the new school is fully funded and well equipped when it opens by August 2008, despite increased costs blamed on 2005’s Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

Mike Mitchell, spokesman for Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth and Development, told about 20 district patrons they would find strong school-funding allies among Thorngrove community residents who, he said, “are having the [proposed Midway] industrial park rammed down their throats.”

Aspiring county politicians, Mitchell said, consider creating such an industrial park a political achievement, but not a new school.

Mitchell, whose group once opposed the county Wheel Tax whose revenues are earmarked for HVHS, said Thorngrove residents vocally oppose commissioners’ proposal to spend county revenue on a Midway industrial park near their east Knox community, north of Interstate 40, near exit 402.

Whether the group’s effort will bear fruit was not evident until Knox County commissioners met Monday, Aug. 28.

Fifth District School Board member Karen Carson, who convened the hearing with 3rd District board member Cindy Buttry and 6th District member-elect Thomas Deakins, showed HVHS floor plans, drafted by The Lewis Group, and she feared any commission failure to fund school costs fully or promptly could delay construction.

Floor plans cut classroom size from 850 to 800 square feet, eliminated classroom closets and reduced school size from 287,000 to 257,000 square feet by deferring one 29-classroom pod’s construction.

“We’d have core facilities,” Carson said, “but no frills.” The community, she said, might need to provide equipment such as track lighting for a school

theater.

Carson, Buttry and Deakins agreed the district badly needs HVHS to ease crowding at Farragut, Karns and Bearden high schools. All three opposed a commission proposal to hire consultants for $650,000 to study school needs countywide before fully funding HVHS whose concrete footings already have been poured.

Carson also told parents that the school, designed for 2,100, might have to be phased in for freshmen and sophomores in 2008, followed by juniors and seniors by 2010. She said she would “jump at the chance” for the district and Knox County Commission each to split the added $6 million cost, if that meant HVHS could be built for 2,100 students and ease crowding sooner.

Carson listed $4.5 million in proposed cost cuts that included delays in buying some equipment until HVHS upper classes were phased in.

Mitchell, however, warned that funds for HVHS — derived from the county’s Wheel Tax — would be jeopardized if commissioners approved a $51 million balloon note to acquire $11 million worth of land for proposed Midway industrial park.

“That needs to go to schools,” Mitchell said, noting that education was the basis on which proponents sold voters a wheel tax. An industrial park “would suck the life out of” Thorngrove community, he added, if commissioners “rammed it down their throat.”

Carson discussed briefly the knotty HVHS attendance zone issue. To ease crowding, she said, “we need to get 600 students out of Farragut High School” and cut FHS’s student body nearer 90 percent of capacity to allow for growth.

Building HVHS for just 1,300 students, she said, would not ease West Knox crowding, so more schools would be needed soon.

Carson cited statistics showing FHS near 2,200 pupils — 115 percent of capacity. Karns and Bearden High Schools hovered near 100 percent, while all three should be nearer 90.

Buttry and Carson cited difficulty in getting board unanimity on need for fully funding HVHS. Board members, they said, feel second-guessed now by county commissioners who might balk at funding HVHS to accommodate 2,100.

“I think we’ve value-engineered the heck out of this project,” Carson said of cuts in school plans. “There’s no fluff left.”

Carson and Buttry called for a vigorous turnout of school advocates at Monday’s commission meeting and added: “How can we expect commissioners to meet a need we’ve never asked for?”

Bill Johns of Farragut said he has no children in West Knox schools, but he’s concerned about quality schools as an inducement to area economic development.

“It saddens me,” Johns said, “to hear how much time [board members] had to spend, cutting out basics for schools. We’ve known this growth was coming for 30 years. … This school is just one issue. We need more schools, or they’ll be bursting at the seams immediately” once HVHS opens.

“It’s important to have the county administration keep its promise from the wheel tax,” Johns added. “A school built for just thirteen hundred will not meet any needs, especially if it’s ‘barebones’ from day one.”

Regardless of commissioners’ decision, Carson anticipates autumn community meetings, held to outline proposed HVHS attendance zones and solicit parents’ feedback.

“I’m sure everyone will be upset” by proposed zoning, she said. “Some will be able to look out their window and see Farragut [High School], although their kids may be assigned to Hardin Valley.”

Carson said board members have discussed “no secret zones,” but she added board members might consider block-zoning so entire student bodies, leaving some middle schools, might be zoned to attend HVHS.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have a [zoning] decision made by December,” she added. “That would let people move around [to be] in whatever zone they like.”

 

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