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Public school grant policy OK’d

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen OK’d a policy for public school education grants at its meeting Thursday, April 22.

“This gives us a guide on how we’re going to distribute some of the funds to Farragut public schools,” Associate Town Administrator Gary Palmer said.

Historically, the Town has donated money to all public schools in Farragut, and recently has added Hardin Valley Academy. In the past few years, the Town has given $10,000 to each school.

“Our granting to public schools has been a long-standing and almost traditional practice of the Town,” Mayor Ralph McGill said.

The policy applies only to public schools, not private or religious-affiliated schools, or to public school clubs, groups or teams.

All of those entities could apply for grant money through the community grant policy.

But Alderman Bob Markli worried that excluding private and religious schools was discrimination.

“I think we’ve got an issue here. … We’re creating a subgroup that’s not able to receive funds from the Town,” he said.

Town Attorney Tom Hale agreed that this policy was specifically tailored to public schools, but said other schools could apply for grants under the community grant program.

However, any religious schools that applied for donations would have to be analyzed, since Tennessee state law forbids government donations to “pervasively sectarian” organizations.

“A lot of people choose to send their children to private schools simply because public schools don’t give them a particular religious point of view,” Markli said.

“My concern is that these people pay taxes like everybody else, but they don’t burden our school system. They take their education upon themselves, so they are already kind of second-class citizens. They’re paying taxes for a service they don’t receive.

“And here we are, further marginalizing them by making it impossible for them to be on par with the public schools,” he added.

Such religious schools, if they promoted a specific religion or belief, likely would not be able to receive Town monies.

Hale said each individual request would have to be examined carefully.

“This is a very difficult area that denies a simple policy explanation,” he said.

“There’s no way to write this thing that will eliminate all judgment by this body,” he added.

Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche pointed out that only public schools had ever appeared before the Board requesting money.

Alderman John Williams said the precedent to focus on public schools already is established: even the Knox County Board of Education does not oversee private schools, only public ones.

“It seems that, from the perspective of a public entity and an elected body, the precedent is already established for us to focus on public schools and not address the needs of private schools, whose attendees are largely there by their own free will,” Williams said.

Williams also had a semantic correction to the policy, which repeatedly referred to “Farragut public schools.”

Williams said there are no Farragut public schools, since Farragut does not have a school system, and since all student residents of the Town do not attend schools that have the Farragut name.

He asked that a note be inserted in the policy that would define public schools as “Knox County public schools to which Farragut residents are zoned to attend.”

That would allow grants to Hardin Valley, but not allow grants to, say, West High School if a single Farragut resident chose to attend that school. It also would include any other potential schools to which Farragut students may be zoned in the future.

The Board also added a note that referred potential private and religious school requestors to the community grant policy.

LaMarche moved to accept the policy with the changes the Board had outlined. Alderman Jeff Elliott seconded and the motion was unanimously approved.


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