Discussions of Rutherford County’s proposed School Board district map became heated Monday during a Steering and Legislative Committee meeting, with La Vergne citizens and county officials upset with both current plans and alternative proposals.
La Vergne residents are upset their city is divided among three School Board districts, one of which (Dist. 4) is split in two, representing both southern La Vergene and Eagleville. (Map by Rutherford County GIS)
Ivy Hogan of “This is La Vergne,” a local blog, and other residents are unhappy with the zones created under the new district plan that will take affect next year.
Hogan said she believes dividing La Vergne into three zones is not what the city needs.
“What does the west side of La Vergne have in common with Eagleville, and what does Lake Forest have in common with Milton and Lascassas?” Hogan asked rhetorically in an interview. “Our needs for our schools differ greatly.”
Hogan also said La Vergne is rather divided as it stands, without pushing its zones into other parts of the county.
“People in Lake Forest feel they don’t get enough of the city’s attention, people in Woodland Hills think they are the ones who don’t get enough attention,” Hogan said. “A School Board zone that is unified would help create more unity in the city.”
Zoning changes are being considered because the state is in the process of redistricting state legislature and congressional districts, which is required by law every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken.
La Vergne Mayor Senna Mosley was in attendance at the Rutherford County Steering Committee meeting to voice her concerns about the School Board zones in La Vergne, echoing Hogan and his group.
“Just make us one area up there,” Mosley said. “Don’t split us up.”
Commissioners Steve Sandlin (Dist. 9) and Gary Farley (Dist. 7) were adamant that a School Board member would represent their district whether from La Vergne or not.
Mosley said people like to be represented by their neighbors, but she knows it’s not always possible.
“All I’m asking is that while you are looking into this, please make one of those areas where somebody from La Vergne is going to be on the School Board,” Mosley said.
Commissioner Trey Gooch (Dist. 20) argued to keep the zones the way they are.
“I think we just have to set the zones and let people run and represent their zones,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Stevens (Dist. 12) also supported the La Vergne group with three maps he had prepared to show the committee.
“The districts we have now, you just have areas that have very little in common,” Stevens said. “This to me makes so much more sense to have La Vergne citizens represented by a School Board official from La Vergne focusing on the La Vergne schools.”
He argued that his map would create zones where parts of the county with similar interests would be grouped together and speculated as to why the city was split up.
“My suspicion is that it was done to water their influence down to where they wouldn’t have anyone on the School Board,” Stevens said.
Mayor Ernest Burgess dismissed the claim, arguing La Vergne could ultimately end up having three School Board members.
Stevens demanded the committee look at the map he had prepared.
“I want you to look at this map and tell me this map doesn’t look more logical,” Stevens said.
Sandlin fired back saying, “I want you to make some sense, and I’ll be glad to comment.”
Stevens said he was shocked at some of the committee members’ behavior, adding “it was uncalled for.”
“Making changes is not the easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Commissioner Tiffany Phillips (Dist. 8) said she was concerned about other zones not being contiguous.
State law only requires commission districts to be contiguous, but Phillips argued the new zones create a difficult situation for someone trying to get on the School Board from the Eagleville area.
“If someone wants to run for the School Board or the Road Board, it’s going to be difficult for someone from District 8 to win an election because Districts 9 and 10 are more compact,” Phillips said. “I really feel to better serve our constituents and residents of the county, our Road Board and School Board need to have contiguous zones.”
Farley and Sandlin dismissed the argument, saying that someone will always be there to represent Eagleville even if the board member does not live in that area.
“Eagleville is still gonna have the same representation whether Wayne Blair is there or not,” Farley said. “That person is still going to represent that district just like any of us are going to represent our districts.”
Gooch said the discussion sounded “like an attempt to get someone from Eagleville elected on the School Board.”
Phillips said while the zones are legal they might not be ideal for the area.
Burgess suggested commissioners could introduce an amendment to pull a portion of the district blocking contiguity to solve the problem, in order to meet the requirement of one man, one vote.
“Is that acceptable?” Burgess asked Phillips.
Phillips agreed it would make the zones contiguous but said she was concerned it would create an irregular shape that would not pass state law.
The steering committee voted 6-1 to reject all proposals and revisit the matter at a later date.