VOL. 130 | NO. 116 | Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Aitken Makes Case for Collierville’s New $99 Million School
By Bill Dries
There is the effort to sell Collierville residents on the specific plan for a $99 million comprehensive high school for 3,000 students. And then there is the effort to avoid a referendum on the $99 million bond issue that could follow approval of a property tax hike for the new school construction.
“I think our job … is to continue to educate on why we have come up with this proposal,” Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines. “Why we think it’s the best proposal and educate our folks who may be unsure to keep them from going to a referendum.”
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
The move by the Collierville Schools board to approve the concept went to the town’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen for funding this month.
And the body approved last week a 20-cent property tax hike on the second of three readings. It would be combined with more than $4 million in revenue the city already gets for local public education from a half cent on the sales tax rate in Collierville.
The half-cent sales tax hike was required by the state to produce a minimum amount of local funding in order to form a municipal school district. And the school system used $2.2 million of the revenue in its first year of operation, which ended in May.
“The fact that you now have municipal school districts, the capital needs of those schools in that district now fall in the laps of the funding body and now the funding body is the board of mayor and aldermen,” Aitken said of the capital funding shift with the demerger of public education to include six suburban school systems.
Aitken and his staff as well as the town’s Chamber of Commerce make their case for the new Collierville High School – to be built on 136 acres of land south of Shelby Drive and east of Sycamore Road – Tuesday, June 16, at a town hall meeting at Collierville United Methodist Church, 454 W. Poplar Avenue. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.
The mayor and aldermen take a final vote on the property tax rate June 22.
The existing Collierville High School would be converted to a middle school in the transition and could be converted later to an elementary school if that school-age population grows.
But Aitken said once the town’s boundaries became the schools’ boundaries, the need for a high school quickly became apparent.
The Collierville Schools board voted to begin looking at the possibility before the demerger’s first school year.
“Our issue right now at Collierville High in the main case is the hallways,” Aitken said referring to the addition of 150 new Collierville High School students each year. “We’ve had to go to one-way hallways.”
That’s partially the result of Collierville middle schoolers coming out of Houston Middle School in Germantown. The two suburban school districts have a three-year interlocal agreement entering its second year in August that allows students living in Collierville who attended Houston High and Middle prior to the demerger to finish at either one.
Until the issue of funding and building a new high school is settled, Aitken said portable classrooms will be a fact of life at Collierville High School and Schilling Farms Middle School. The new high school would open in the 2017-18 school year.
Aitken is an advocate for a single high school as a source of community pride. The former principal of Houston High, he cites the rivalry in Germantown between Houston and Germantown High, which extended to “the perceived thought that Houston had better facilities,” Aitken acknowledged, adding, “It was wrong.”
“There’s something about the pride in the community. But it goes beyond that. It goes to operational costs,” Aitken said.
A mail survey earlier this year to gauge support for a 38-cent property tax hike for a new school drew a low turnout and a slight plurality against such a tax hike, what Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner has described as “a draw.”
As Collierville debates the new school proposal and its cost, two of the other five suburban school systems also are considering new school construction.
Germantown Municipal School District leaders are considering a new elementary school. Lakeland Schools System leaders are weighing new middle school construction after voters there took a $50 million bond issue for a grades 6-12 school to the ballot in April, and the bond issue was voted down.