Members of the Bradley County Board of Education discussed possible responses to letters from the County Commission at its Tuesday night work session.
The issues at hand were the amount of funding set aside for renovations at Lake Forest Middle School and how the board felt about the Common Core standards the state had already adopted.
Vicki Beaty, the board’s chairwoman, read a resolution from the Commission that explained how planned changes to the Lake Forest Middle School property would be funded by the county government.
The resolution commits to borrowing $12 million for the project in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. An additional $1 million has been offered by the school system for the project.
The problem, said board member Nicholas Lillios, was that the costs of necessary repairs Lake Forest had already begun to eat into the funding for a building project that was not supposed to begin until the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Lillios said the school has had to undergo necessary roof projects at the school, which had professionals “digging asbestos out of the cafeteria.” He added that he was worried about the open-ended nature of the budget proposal because the school could require the entire $14 million.
Board member Christy Critchfield said she shared that concern and added that there were some projects that simply needed to be done to make sure the school building can remain open to students.
“We have to have a school,” Critchfield said. “We don’t have a choice.”
Charlie Rose, another board member, pointed out the cafeteria concerns just impacted one building, while the school is divided up into multiple buildings.
Other plans for Lake Forest include expanding the building that houses the auditorium, which would allow more school activities to be housed in one building. Rose said the current design of the school was a safety concern because of the number of ways someone could get into buildings.
“All these things are safety issues for me,” Rose said. “The more things we can roll into one building, the safer we are.”
Board members decided that they would likely need to further discuss the matter of how much funding would be available and when, but no formal voting decisions were able to be made at the work session.
After that discussion, board members turned their attention to a request from the Bradley County Commission for the school board to form an official written opinion on the Common Core standards to be sent to the state government.
Beaty said the board needed to find out what people thought about the standards before composing an official position.
The best way for the board to be able to form an opinion would be for them to speak with those who most deal with the standards on a daily basis, she said.
“I’m going to talk with teachers,” Beaty said. “They’re the ones who know what’s going on.”
While she said it was good to raise the standards of what students needed to know, she said needing to implement frequent changes can sometimes leave teachers without “the breathing space to do it with fidelity.”
Johnny McDaniel, the county’s director of schools, pointed out to members of the board that the local school system needed to continue to follow Common Core if it still wanted to receive state money.
Because the state of Tennessee chose to assess public school students based on Common Core, it became how all state-funded schools in Bradley County would need to assess their students.
“As long as we take state money, we have to go with state mandates,” McDaniel said.
Some Bradley County commissioners were in attendance, and Commissioner Terry Caywood spoke of how he knew of students being withdrawn from public schools and put into private school because they could not succeed under the newer, tougher standards.
However, Critchfield also said it was important for children in school to be challenged academically, a concern she said she had about her own children’s educations.
After Caywood explained how some third-grade students were given math tests that their teachers and parents said were too hard for them, Rose expressed concern about whether or not the standards were age-appropriate.
The board members decided they would respond to the Commission after more research and conversations with those who work with Common Core.
“I want to make sure we give something with teeth — with real data,” said board member Chris Turner.
County Commissioner Ed Elkins, who was also at the meeting, told board members a response to the request would allow state legislators to have a better picture of how the standards impact schools in Bradley County.