Bradley County Schools has a request before the Bradley County Commission for a new Blue Springs School, renovations at Lake Forest Middle School and additional classrooms at Walker Valley High School.
McDaniel reminded the ministers that when the county schools receive money for capital projects, Cleveland City Schools gets approximately one-third through a formula based on student population. Officials have said the city system is overcrowded and in need of a new elementary school. Many people in South Bradley County were forced into the city system after the 2011 tornadoes.
“We’ve lost those students. The city’s attendance is up, and so is mine,” he said. “We’re having growth city and countywide.”
The requests are before the Commission; however, the county has reached its borrowing limit. Instead of raising property taxes, the Commission decided to send a $32 wheel tax to a vote of the people on Aug. 2. If the referendum passes, it will take an additional 13 months to build enough cash reserve before the money can be borrowed. The earliest the 20-year bonds could be issued is early 2014.
“The referendum was very specific about how the funds could be used,” McDaniel said. “They will be used for these education projects. It’s a very tightly worded referendum.”
The tax is set at $32 for most vehicles and $16 for motorcycles because that amount would allow the county to borrow the requested $32 million. Most residents would pay the tax though there are some exemptions in compliance with state law.
“Right now, the county has no borrowing power. If it’s a credit card, it’s maxed out, and they can’t put anything else on it. The only way to borrow the money to pay for these education projects is to have revenue coming in to be able to pay for those projects.”
McDaniel said he has not spoken much about the referendum because he wanted to be sure of the language and that the school board knew what it was supporting. The Commission’s commitment is to education.
“The only way this will pass is if the good people of this county who believe in education go out and vote,” he said. “I’m going to ask the teachers to vote. I’m going to ask their families to vote. I am going to ask you church leaders to think about this and if it is something you can at least tell people what it goes for it would be helpful. But they need to go out and vote regardless of how they feel. I hope they support it. If they can’t I understand, but I hope they vote.”
McDaniel outlined the needs at Lake Forest Middle School that have been ongoing since the school was built. Bradley Central High School has a student population of about 1,700. Walker Valley High School was designed for 1,200 students and can accommodate 1,400 students. It now has a student population of 1,500. A portable classroom is on campus and more will be added unless something is done. McDaniel wants 16 additional classrooms but the school needs at least eight.
“That building is running at capacity,” he said. “We have room in some classrooms and we’ve commandeered spaces that were not intended to be classrooms. We do those kinds of things in education,” the director of schools said.
Lastly, the Bradley County School Board voted to replace Blue Springs Elementary School which was destroyed by the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.
The Board purchased 20 acres north of the old site at Blue Springs Road and Old Federal Road with the insurance settlement.
“We emphasize the classroom. Eighty percent of our budget is on people. We do not have a large administrative staff. Our administrative staff is probably smaller than our sister system and surrounding systems.”
In general McDaniel said 2012 has been a difficult year in education due to changes in the tenure law, the end of professional negotiations in Tennessee and a new evaluation model.
“That has been a challenge,” he said. “We went from evaluating teachers twice in 10 years to evaluating them twice in one year.”
He said the school system is considering the “Coach” model piloted in Hamilton County during the 2010-11 school year. McDaniel considers that evaluation system more teacher friendly as opposed to the more standardized state model.
“This (Hamilton County) model allows the principal to be in the classrooms more frequently and have more opportunities for teachers to talk with the administration on a more professional development model, versus just a straight evaluation. It’s a model that facilitates conversation about their teaching practice,” he said. “We have great teachers and great staff and many of them are in your churches. Many of the people we hire believe this is their calling. This is their purpose and this is where they’re supposed to be teaching and when you hire people like that, that will make a great system.”
In spite of the difficulties, he said the school system has made progress. In reading, it is among the top 10 highest performing systems in the state though it is one of the lowest funded in Tennessee.
“We’re in the lower part of the state for funding but we score high,” he said. “That kind of works against us because people say, ‘Well, you can get by with this amount of money because your scores are high.’”
But, McDaniel said, the County Schools system needs help if the area experiences projected growth over the next 10 to 20 years.
“By 2035, we may have another Cleveland inside Bradley County and if that occurs, what would we do with those children?” he asked. “My job is to educate them. What would I do with them? We have a plan we have taken to the Commission and part of that plan was to look at existing facilities, and folks, I have to tell you, lack of funding shows up most in our facilities.”