One county commissioner thinks classrooms should be used more by giving high school students more options in their schedules. (File photo)
As Rutherford County’s growth far exceeds its ability to fund new schools, one county commissioner has some ideas that could save tax dollars in the long run.
County Commissioner Jeff Jordan (Dist. 13), who is also chairman of the Health and Education Committee, said he believes there are some problems with the way Rutherford County and many other counties handle issues of growth and overcrowding in the school system, which is to keep building new schools.
“I want to educate better and cheaper,” Jordan said. “I’m thinking we’ve got a lot of things we can do.”
His idea is to have a longer school day and school year with three semesters per year as opposed to the current two-semester year, allowing students and parents some choice in deciding when they go to school. Jordan’s concept would only affect local high schools.
Students would go to school any two out of the three semesters with an option to attend all three semesters and graduate early.
Jordan argues this kind of flexibility could relieve overcrowding issues as not all students zoned for a school will be sharing the building, teachers and lunch line at the same time.
“We could educate a lot more people and not have to build a very expensive building,” Jordan said.
Stewart’s Creek High School, which will open its doors next year, is expected to cost taxpayers more than $142 million over the next 20 years. Jordan estimates $22 million alone will be paid toward interest on borrowing to build the school.
The need for another high school, or two, or three, will be likely long before the 20-year loan on Stewart’s Creek is paid off resulting in an enormous amount of debt for taxpayers to carry.
“I submit that the student does not get much benefit. They do not receive a better education in the new building than the old,” Jordan said.
He said Rutherford County’s multimillion dollar schools are closed more often than they are used for educating between holidays, breaks, in-service days and half-days.
“It takes us 300 days to educate for the state required 180 days,” Jordan said.
Schools are also closed after 3 p.m. in most cases, which Jordan argues is another inefficient use of a costly building.
“I want to give students an opportunity to come back at night,” he said. “It will keep these individuals out of the buildings during the day when the schools are overcrowded.”
He also suggested online classes should be explored as an option.
Jordan explained the county would have to hire more teachers under his concept, which will be costly, though much less expensive than the next few multimillion dollar buildings, and taxpayers would be putting their money into education rather than buildings.
“We are not going to have to tax for the building or tax to pay the interest on that building,” Jordan said. “We would be better off to pour that money into teachers, teacher aids and programs, instead of architect fees and furniture.”
Jordan made very clear he is merely suggesting a committee be formed to discuss ways to make more efficient use of Rutherford County’s high schools and is not proposing the county make the specific changes he has discussed nor does he have the authority to do so.
Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess will have to decide whether or not to explore Jordan’s ideas.
The Murfreesboro Post will follow up with county and school board officials next week, along with the Rutherford Education Association.