By LANDON WOODROOF
The city should undertake a feasibility study on forming its own school system, a Brentwood parent told Brentwood’s City Commission at its Monday night meeting.
Grady Tabor spoke at the meeting to represent the views of a new group formed by Brentwood parents with the intention of supporting such a study. Many of those parents were in the crowd and applauded Tabor’s remarks.
Tabor provided numerous reasons why he thought the city should carry out a feasibility study. Many had to do with what he called “the gap” between what Brentwood residents contribute to the school system versus what they get back.
“Brentwood contributes about 27 percent to schools, and our students are about 24 percent of enrollment and could be less than 20 percent in 10 years,” Tabor, who has kids at both Brentwood Middle School and Brentwood High School, said.
He said that Brentwood is approaching the build out phase in the coming years. However, other Williamson County communities still have the potential for a huge amount of new development.
Tabor also pointed out that Brentwood public schools are expected to see a 14 percent increase in student population growth in the next few years. However, other cities in the district are expected to see more than double that.
The cost of building new schools to accommodate growing populations in the district will fall disproportionately on Brentwood, Tabor said.
“If the county decided to fund school needs using property taxes we would feel the increase more than anyone else in the county because of our home values,” he said.
He also expressed concern that the renovation or replacement of Brentwood’s schools, which he said were 28 years old on average, could be overlooked in favor of funding for new schools.
Tabor made it clear that he and the parents who make up the new group, which is so new it does not yet even have a name, are broadly supportive of the work that WCS has done to make local schools so successful.
“We as a group like many in Brentwood love Brentwood, Williamson County and our school system,” he said. “In fact, the success Dr. Looney, the school board, staff and teachers have been able to generate under these funding restraints, both capital and now operational, is amazing.”
Tabor praised local parents, too, for their engagement in school issues.
“We know parental involvement is one of the most important success factors and our parents are very engaged,” he said. “Events like rezoning and tax increases have a way of awakening a community.”
Despite acknowledging the commission’s best efforts to fund schools, Tabor returned to that idea of the gap.
“Just keep in mind there is a fundamental funding gap between what Brentwood is contributing and what we get back in return, and that we have no control over how much and when our contributions are allocated back to our community,” he said.
That gap is ultimately what led Tabor and others to do independent research. The group sought out the opinions of superintendents in Shelby County, where new school systems were recently formed. Then they decided to press for a study.
Tabor said that “we feel as though we have enough information to justify the expenses the city would incur to begin the process of conducting a feasibility study by an expert, independent and impartial consulting firm. We ask the city to begin this process so we can be an informed community.”
The idea of a feasibility study was in the news a couple of months ago when Commissioner Rhea Little raised the idea. He said he kept getting questions from concerned parents asking why the city could not just form its own system.
At the commission’s April 20 briefing, the commissioners discussed Little’s plan. While most commissioners did not outright reject Little’s idea of a feasibility study, they thought the timing was poor. It was in the midst of both election season and negotiations to secure funding for the Plan A rezoning that would keep most Brentwood students at schools in town.
“I just think for it to come up in the middle of a campaign when emotions are high — and I know you’re well-intended — is not the time for us to step off that cliff right now,” Commissioner Anne Dunn told Little during that meeting.
Monday night, the commissioners largely supported the idea of considering some kind of study.
“When the election’s passed, things are calm, you sort of know what’s going on,” Dunn said. “Then I think that’s the time to look at something. So your timing is probably very good, and I’m sure that’s something we’ll discuss as a group.”
Commissioner Mark Gorman said he was in favor of having city staff gather information on a potential feasibility study.
“I’m of the opinion that we need to do some type of study because I don’t have enough information personally to be able to make an informed decision,” he said. “It may be a good thing to do, perhaps not, but we need information to be able to make that decision.”
Mayor Jill Burgin said she supported gathering more information because the question of a Brentwood school system is one that keeps coming up from community members.
“We do get that question enough that we need to be able to give specific answers on that,” she said.
While commissioners expressed openness to the idea of some kind of feasibility study, none went so far as to endorse the creation of a new school system.
“I’m not sure how I feel about a city school system,” Dunn said. “I’m a former teacher. I usually think of starting a system when you’ve got a failing one you’re trying to get away from, but they’re interesting questions you have.”