Enrollment decrease compels Washington County committee to recommend school facility study

Zach Vance • Updated Oct 4, 2017 at 11:42 PM

Compared to three years ago, enrollment at Washington County Schools has declined by 429 students, according to information provided during Monday’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting.

Based on that information, the school system is 1,042 students short of its “high function capacity,” or the peak efficiency enrollment based on each school facility’s capacity.

Considering the capacities of the new Boones Creek, Jonesborough and magnet schools, Washington County could theoretically consolidate three of its current schools and still have an excess capacity of 500 students, according to Committee Chairman Tom Krieger.

This enrollment downturn has compelled county leaders to start thinking about reevaluating its 14 school facilities, but as Commissioner Phil Carriger stated, “Sometimes, you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Believing such an evaluation needs “fresh eyes,” the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee unanimously voted to recommend commissioning a 10-year facility study.

“The purpose of this is not to point fingers at anyone nor to suggest any immediate action, but we must all work together to provide a master plan that minimizes expenses while maximizing the educational opportunities for the children and young adults of Washington County,” Krieger wrote in a memo to committee members.

Jesse Register, director of Belmont University’s Center for the Improvement of Educational Systems, would be hired to complete the study, with the help of third party specialists.

Register is the former director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, and was Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton’s former boss while she still worked in the Nashville school system.

The proposal entails assessing facility conditions, facility capacities and projected enrollment growth versus existing capacity.

If approved, the consultant’s study would not exceed $60,000, the memorandum of understanding stated, which includes employing a facilities specialist, an enrollment and zoning specialist, a mechanical engineer, an administrative assistant and travel expenses.

Boones Creek Middle, Jonesborough Elementary, Grandview Elementary and Ridgeview Elementary were the only schools to experience any enrollment growth since the 2014-15 school year. Ridgeview experienced steady gains each year culminating with a 101 difference compared to previous years.

Other topics discussed were ways to keep in-county students from transferring to outside school systems, and how out-of-county student enrollment affects the amount of state funding Washington County receives.

Citing a state Department of Education official, County Mayor Dan Eldridge said there isn’t a fixed amount per student in state funding Washington County receives for its 190 out-of-county students, but students living within city limits can attend county schools for free.

Eldridge said the study should focus especially on student demographics, rather than entirely on facility upgrades.

“What I’d like to see come from the study is a clear set of objectives that are evidence-based, and objectives focused on improving the outcomes of the school system. That has to be the ultimate goal in this,” Eldridge said.

“Identifying new opportunities to spend money on bricks and mortar, if that’s all that comes out of this, we’ve failed miserably. This has to accomplish the goal of improving the outcomes of the Washington County School System.”

Washington County Board of Education Chairman Jack Leonard said a similar facility study was complete in 2010, which ultimately recommended the construction of the Boones Creek and Jonesborough Schools.

However, that study did project a slight enrollment increase, Leonard said, which has not materialized.

The county’s Budget Committee will hear the recommendation for the 10-year facility study next Wednesday.

If approved by the full commission, the proposal calls for the long-range facility study to be completed no later than April 1, 2018.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP. 

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