Maryville City Schools last week gave city council members an overview of eight options to handle projected enrollment growth, with a goal of recommending one this spring.
No one expects any construction for about seven years, but since all but one option would require building a new school, both city and district officials want to plan ahead for any possible land acquisition.
Director Mike Winstead said during the city officials’ retreat at the House in the Woods on the Maryville College campus that the plan likely will involve pulling a grade out of the current intermediate schools, which now serve grades four through seven.
Teachers already have voiced concerns about an option that would build a third intermediate school and have those buildings serve grades four through eight.
“I would imagine between now and whatever we do there will have to be more rezonings,” Winstead told council members, noting that about 60 families will be affected by a change in the upcoming school year. Although growth in the Montvale Road area has been affecting Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School, Coulter Grove has greater capacity.
Four of the options would combine Maryville’s high school and junior high into a main school and annex serving grades nine through 12. Referring to the current junior high, Winstead said, “we don’t want to call it a nine grade academy.”
“We would have to strategically house other programs in that junior high facility,” he explained, to add the needed capacity for the other grades as well. As an example, he noted that the junior high building currently has a better shop area than the high school.
In that model, one bus would be stationed at each school, ferrying students between the buildings every period of the day. “It adds to the operational costs, but it’s doable,” he said.
Three of the options would move the high school to a “college model,” in which teachers would have offices instead of designated classrooms all day.
Currently the cost estimates for the options developed by Cope Architecture range from $14 million to $39 million just for construction. Seven of the plans call for a new building, and Winstead said that can add $1 million a year in operational costs to the district’s budget.
During the meeting Winstead noted the facilities plans deal only with meeting projected enrollment growth, not “wish list” items.
“There’s a lot of people clamoring to me, and I know the board as well, we need a new gym,” Winstead told the city council members. “We see the new gym at Oak Ridge, Alcoa and Cleveland, and we’d love to have a gym that matches our football field and baseball field and who we are in Maryville. That’s not going to be part of this.”
He also noted the desire for better fine arts spaces, beyond the option the city often uses to have events at the Clayton Center for the Arts. Referring to the current space on campus, he said, “that is a poor auditorium for a school like Maryville High School when we think about a showcase school in this state.”
Among the many considerations in weighing the facilities options for the projected enrollment growth are when to bring all students across the city together in one school. Currently that happens at the junior high for grades eight and nine, but one plan would delay that until grade 10.
Another concern is guaranteeing equity across schools, he said. If the city builds a new state-of-the art junior high, it couldn’t provide the same experience to students who would still attend the current 50-year old building.
Before Winstead delivered the facilities overview, Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said, “It’s no secret that public education is under attack. It’s not even subtle anymore.”
“They’ve opened the floodgates on charters,” he said, referring not only to the governor’s plan to provide funding for private schools but also a new commission to which applicants can appeal for charter approval.
“Our best defense is to have a wonderful school system that is immune from the arrows that come at it, and it’s also important that the school board and city council work hand in hand to make sure there’s not an issue out there that might divide us,” the mayor said. “We want this school system to be the best.”
City and school officials also noted possible pressure from the state legislature to have only one school district per county, as is the case in most of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Taylor said it was unclear whether an entire school district could become a charter. “That could be a fallback if we had to,” he said.
Councilman Tommy Hunt asked Maryville’s school director about exploring opportunities with the other local districts to improve efficiencies.
Winstead noted past conversations about joint use of athletic facilities, such as Maryville’s new track, and said they are looking at having students attend classes across districts when space permits. For example, a Maryville student might take a welding class at a county high school. “I think that would be the next step in our level of cooperation,” Winstead said.
Before Winstead’s presentation, representatives for Pugh CPAs presented the results of its recent audit of the city. One concern the auditors noted in the school district was the lack of separation of duties.
With only one other employee, Kathy Smith, director of finance, had been writing checks and handling cash receipts in addition to reconciling accounts. School officials told the city they already have added a part-time employee so that Smith no longer also handles the cash or checks.