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Budget panel OKs middle schools over mayor's protests

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Much to the county mayor’s chagrin, Rutherford County’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed Thursday night to move forward with the construction of two new middle schools.

The discussion was heated at points as the committee deliberated whether to approve building now at a reduced price, only to pay more in the future for operating costs or to delay building for a year in hopes of an economic rebound.

In the end, the committee decided to move forward with construction in a 5-2 vote with Commissioners Bob Bullen, Joe Frank Jernigan, Will Jordan, Robert Peay and Steve Sandlin voting in favor and Chairwoman Joyce Ealy and Commissioner Doug Shafer against.

The full commission must still approve of moving forward. It will vote on the issue at its monthly meeting next Thursday.
“I’m delighted that they understood the need for these two middle schools and that they understood the potential to save in construction and the low interest rates on the borrowed money,” Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Harry Gill Jr. said.

County Mayor Ernest Burgess urged the committee to delay the construction because the county is facing a budget shortfall this year that won’t clear up until the nation’s economic picture brightens.

Burgess told the committee, even without the additional schools, the county will need an additional 38 cents on the property tax rate to balance the budget in 2010, when the schools are slated to open.

By adding the schools, the county will need to raise an additional $3.7 million per year, Gill said.

Ealy and Shafer both voted against the measure, because they are concerned about the potential impact of a tax hike.
Gill said the schools are needed to “improve the quality of education in Rutherford County” and move more than 3,000 students into classrooms and out of portables.

Because of the downturn in the construction industry, bids for the construction of Buchanan Middle Schools came in $2.6 million less than budgeted. Sewer costs and land preparation were both cheaper, Gill said.

“We presume the same with Dejarnette (middle school),” Gill said. The bids for a new middle school across Dejarnette Lane for Oakland High School are due March 17.

Overall, Gill expects the county to save $5.3 million on construction alone by moving forward now.

County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said there is also an opportunity to save by borrowing money now to build the schools.
“Williamson County just did $50 million at 3.8 percent,” she said.

Rutherford County could get a similar rate on the $68.4 million it needs for the construction of the two middle schools among other projects. If so, the county looks to save over the life of the bonds.

Gill also said it will add around $3.7 million per year to the school system’s budget to run the two new schools and convert Central Middle to a sixth-12th grade magnet school.

He said most teachers are transferred from other schools within the system and most of the added cost is actually in administration.
“The teachers transfer with kids,” he said.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or mwillard@murfreesboropost.com.
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Members Opinions:
March 06, 2009 at 4:22pm
Money has sprouted somewhere. Schools being built, roads being fixed. My someone found buried treasure.
March 06, 2009 at 5:33pm
If they have the money for them FINE & GOOD other wise don't think of asking taxpayers for it or borrowing the money If you don't have the money for any thing you do with out until you do
Common sence????? Which apparently the County’s Budget and Finance Committee has no clue of what that is.
March 06, 2009 at 5:44pm
Thanks to Commissioners JOrdan, Jernigan, Bullen, Peay, and Sandlin for their farsightedness in voting for this proposal. I am proud of public servants like these who stand up for what is correct, though not necessarily the popular thing to do. The decision is prudent, fiscally sound, and simply evidence of good common sense.

Hearty thanks go, too, to Harry Gill and Mark Byrnes and the other members of the Rutherford County School Board for pushing this proposal! They chose the high road and are to be commended.

steve cates
March 06, 2009 at 6:16pm
Ealy and Shafer were wise in voting "no" on this. It will come back to all those other commissioners when the county starts raising our taxes again. It will bite them in the behind.
March 06, 2009 at 9:18pm
The reasons to build now are to get kids out of portables and to save money on construction costs, right?

I hate seeing kids in portables, but we've had kids in them for years and years. Would a few more years be intolerable?

As far as saving on construction materials now, who's to say the prices won't stay depressed as we come out of the economic mess that we're in?

Personally, with so much financial uncertainty in peoples' lives right now, I'm wondering if the jobs created by building these schools and the savings on construction costs would justify the unavoidable increase in property taxes (to cover the administration costs, ancillary staff, books, utilities, transportation, etc.).

I'm siding with Mayor Burgess and Commissioners Ealy and Shafer on this one.

March 06, 2009 at 9:41pm
How is burdening future generations with millions in debt the "prudent" thing to do? Our commissioners are reading the same playbook as our President and Congress.

By the way, Mr. Cates was a great economics teacher at RHS and we also had portables in the 1980's. Not as good as classrooms, but we turned out ok and nobody got blown away.
March 06, 2009 at 10:15pm
Be sure and pay that wheel tax! Why is this county so hell bent on spending? spend, spend, spend. What happened to a wait and see attitude. I feel like i'm watching reruns of the twilight zone reading these stories of spending... I think I'm getting sick... I had more control at 17 with 3 credit cards than these clowns do with our check books.
March 07, 2009 at 10:08am
Hey curious, portables have been around since the seventies and probably longer. The portables will always be around.
March 07, 2009 at 12:23pm
I'll bet all of these monkeys are head over heels in debt their selves, couldn't buy a 50 cent cold drink and at the same time not owe one red penny for something, mortgage, car or credit card debt. One who can't manage their own finance surley don't how to manage other's money.
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