By Brent Lay
Editor Brandon Shields wrote in his editorial, “Brent Lay made some bold commitments” in reference to my three minute speech at the August Madison County Commission meeting. I advocated that Malesus and Beech Bluff K-8 should soon be reopened as PK-8 schools. I also made the case that property should be purchased as soon as possible for a new Huntersville PK-8 school. I feel that three county commissioners, Mark Aday, Carl Alexander, and Gary Tippett made courageous votes repeatedly to communicate their devoted support for their respective community schools. Surely, even the most ardent Republican Caucus member understands that making a stand for a community school in one’s own community is not a betrayal to the political caucus. If you live in one of those districts, I encourage you to convey your approval and support to them personally.
First, in reference to the Malesus school and Editor Brandon’s comment, “if he (Brent Lay) was paying attention, he’d know that Malesus already has a new purpose to begin next semester”, underscores part of my point. This new use of Malesus does not involve a PreK-8 community school. In fact, by design, it will accomplish little for PreK-8 students and little for the Malesus Community other than keeping the building in operation. Those who attended the community meeting about the Innovation Hub almost three months ago know firsthand that this new proposed Malesus school is the result of two years of planning by Commissioner Jimmy Arnold with Superintendent King as well as our School Board. They know that it is called the Innovation Hub which currently involves the offices of a three member team. After a 9 to 10 million dollar remodel, it is scheduled to become a ”central” hub for innovative activities such as robotics, bioSTEM, and Esports in this “reimagined space”. The students will obviously be mostly high school students from all over the district coming and going during each school day. No offense to imagination and promoting entrepreneurial skills, but when your district is one of the bottom 10 districts of 146 districts in the entire state (per the most recent state report card released in July), it is high time we invest our resources back into the basics—reading, writing and arithmetic! Malesus is a great community and we need community schools, not concept schools bringing on more costs and expense for student travel for a few students at a time. Malesus is not centrally located. If the people of Malesus prefer not to have a community school, I accept that. But, please allow that community to make that choice in consideration of the Blue Oval impact. Blue Oval and the demand for thousands of new seats is real and that is a factor Commissioner Arnold nor Dr. King were aware of when the planning for this reimagined space began. Putting Malesus back on line as a PreK-8 will save millions of tax dollars and a student in the Malesus Community would be able to attend that community school for nine years. Note that nearby South Elementary is at capacity already! A remodel for Malesus for a Pre-K8 school involves less than $100 per square foot verses the $600 per square foot for new construction like the new Pope school.
The same points are true for reopening a Pre-K 8 Beech Bluff school as soon as possible. Of course, this could be accomplished in stages such as Pre-K through 2nd grade for the first year. Some have always said, “Well, that school is 8 miles out from Rose Hill”, but what they do not take into account is that there are no red lights and only one stop sign. In terms of travel time, it only involves 10 minutes which is far less time involved than many bus routes in the city. The nearby JCT school is already at capacity! Beech Bluff is a great community and I submit that many of our new Blue Oval transfers will be attracted to that community particularly if it had a community school.
Thirdly, this thinking ahead is exactly what great communities do. They plan ahead. New schools pay for themselves as additional taxpayers or the expanded tax base keeps property taxes lower. Great planning is exactly what Commissioner Gary Tippet is advocating. His district in the Huntersville-Denmark area is expected to see dramatic change immediately. The purchase of property for a new Huntersville Pre-K 8 school should happen very soon. The Reau Graves story involving his donation of land more than 20 years ago for a new Medina school is a great illustration. Mr. Graves helped Medina immeasurably and in turn was blessed financially because of all the development surrounding his donated land. The Medina story is worth replicating in Huntersville! Great planning pays off.
Lastly, Editor Brandon, added a condition: “unless he talks four other board members into telling Dr. Marlon King to drastically change his plans.” Editor Brandon is correct! Yes, that is exactly how school boards in Tennessee are to function. The school board members are elected by their respective communities. The Superintendent is the hired employee as an education professional, not a community expert. In fact, Dr. King has lived in Madison County for less than 8 years all total. It is our school board that is to know the wants of this community and should be “charting the course”. Dr. King is to “fly the plane” to follow that course. The alternative is allowing Dr. King to play Santa Claus with millions of tax dollars fulfilling his dreams and imagination of what he thinks might work best for our community. Since the 1992 consolidation, I believe we have a history of school boards blindly following the dreams and pilot projects of Superintendents. We all have witnessed how some of them eventually “hung” him or herself! If I have the opportunity to serve eventually as a school board member, be assured I will advocate for public hearings at every turn as well as bringing proven experts from all over the country to give opinions. We, in Jackson-Madison County, are better than being one of the worst 10 school districts of 146 districts in the state. Let your County Commissioners and School Board Members know your opinion. Otherwise, they think you are very satisfied.
Brent Lay was a candidate for the open JMCSS Board seat before pulling his name out of the running earlier this month.