Bond issue opponents want to wait on building and adding to the city’s debt. These four points are the most comment arguments:
- Arlington schools can handle the Lakeland students while providing a good education,
- Lakeland Prep isn’t immediately needed to attract residents to the city,
- The city can’t afford to build Lakeland Prep without multiple additional tax increases, and
- High taxes will stifle residential growth.
The interlocal agreement with Arlington Community Schools (which allows Lakeland students to attend Arlington schools) ends on June 30, 2021. Although some Lakeland leaders and citizens have expressed concerns about overcrowding issues in Arlington, those fears are unfounded, according to two Arlington leaders and a spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Lakeland.
In December, Arlington school superintendent Tammy Mason said school capacity issues in Arlington will not affect the district’s willingness to educate Lakeland’s children: The high school has room, the crowded middle school can adapt, and Lakeland’s parents will always have a voice in their children’s education in Arlington. Arlington High School has a capacity of just under 2,400 students and currently has just a little over 2,000 enrolled, including hundreds of non-resident students, she said.
Her district has already asked to indefinitely extend the high school agreement. Pooling both Lakeland and Arlington resources in one facility means more options for all the students, she said.
She acknowledged that the middle school has capacity issues and said it will be a focus of Arlington’s capital improvement discussions at a Jan. 22 meeting. Her view was that it’s more of a question of how, rather than whether, to accomodate the high enrollment.
Arlington mayor Mike Wissman stated the same views in an email exchange earlier this year with former Lakeland commissioner and mayor Jim Bomprezzi Sr. (He confirmed that he still holds these views on Dec. 29.)
Wissman qualified his comments by stating that the school boards make the decisions, and he was only commenting on existing agreements or past school issues because he was a part of negotiating the settlements and original agreements.
On paper, Arlington High School (AHS) has a stated capacity of 2,000 set by Shelby County Schools when it was part of that school district, but AHS has operated up to or over 2,400 students for the past five years or so, Wissman said. Current AHS enrollment is about 2,100 students, and there are enough vacant classrooms to house the ACS Central Office.
“In my opinion, both municipalities would almost have to double in population for us to go over a number of students that we can’t handle at AHS,” Wissman said. “We even have room to expand the AHS campus if ever necessary, which many more high schools are doing across the country because it’s easier to offer all the college prep, AP, dual enrollment, extra-curricular, etc. with a larger number of 9-12 student in public (I emphasize public, not private) schools.”
He expects to see growth in both municipalities but not as fast as it was over the past decade. He believes Arlington could accommodate Arlington and Lakeland students for the next 15 years, although that will be something for the school boards to work out.
He was also positive about the ability of Arlington Middle School (AMS) to handle Lakeland’s students, even though it is the Arlington school that is closest to capacity, with Arlington and Lakeland students only. He said capital improvement plans are an option if space becomes too limited, and Arlington could add on space so neither municipality would have to struggle with building a new middle school.
Wissman responded to Bomprezzi’s concern that Lakeland’s elementary students could be affected by a decision to cancel the interlocal agreement between Lakeland and Arlington. Currently, about 200 Lakeland students in grades K-5 attend Donelson Elementary School in Arlington. Zoning them to Lakeland Elementary School (LES) would cause that school to reach its 1,000-student capacity immediately.
That might force Lakeland school officials to expand LES, add portables or build another elementary school, Wissman said. Those Lakeland elementary students are a welcomed part of Donelson, which still has capacity for another 300 students or so, he added.
One Lakeland option that Arlington has encouraged is for the Lakeland school district to expand from K-5 to K-8 on its existing property, Wissman said.
“Anytime you can use existing property for expansion to fulfill your needs it’s a win-win for everyone,” Wissman said. “From my knowledge, the possible expansion for LSS to go K-8 has the support of ACS. They understand the want and eventual need to do so. Anything we can do as a community here in Arlington we will do to help. It’s really about how to best serve the kids, and that’s what we all need to remember.”
Wissman added, “The whole ‘Arlington needs Lakeland, Lakeland needs Arlington’ still stands true. I just hope everyone else can see that.”
A community member who has checked out the numbers frequently for the anti-bond crowd is Lakeland resident Mike Shideler. He has stated that there are approximately 1,200 students currently at AMS, and the YesForPrep group cites the facility as being at 105.4 percent of capacity. Using those numbers, Shideler said this shows a capacity of 1,139 students (1,200 x 105.4 percent). Subtracting the capacity from the current enrollment shows there are about 61 students over capacity.
Shideler contends that the 105.4 percent figure doesn’t include the portable buildings AMS currently uses as classrooms; he said including the portables brings the enrollment down to 96 percent capacity.
Shideler stands by his numbers, saying the 96 percent figure comes from Arlington school officials. He added, “Lakeland Elementary will be equally or more ‘overcrowded’ in the ‘shared spaces’ if their plan comes to fruition, so is this really a problem? They (the Lakeland school board), at several of the meetings, offered they would move 5th graders up to the new Lakeland Prep to deal with potential overcrowding at the elementary school. Think that will be well received by parents? Having 12 year olds in with 18/19 year olds?”
Shideler did not accept Lakeland school board chairman kevin Floyd’s statements about overcrowding at AMS, citing statistics showing that currently there are fewer students at AMS than have been there in the past three school years, even including the Lakeland children west of Canada Rd and a small number of non-resident students.
“Lowest attendance in three years and this is an ‘overcrowding’ issue?” Shideler said. “If so, why did they not say something two years ago as part of the ‘Vote Yes Lakeland’ campaign? He can’t have it both ways.”
In another point about enrollment numbers, Shideler said that all Lakeland children living west of Canada Road are zoned to attend Bon Lin Middle School. (See a boundary map online; select the “boundary” tab.) But the Lakeland school board asked the Arlington school officials Arlington agreed to this in negotiations on the seven-year interlocal agreement. They started this year by placing those Lakeland sixth-graders at AMS and will continue moving this group of Lakeland students over to AMS until eventually all in grades 6-8 attend AMS. The number of children affected by this change totaled about 70 sixth-graders, Shideler said.
In online discussions, Shideler wrote, “The very same people on the Lakeland School Board who created this issue now cry about ‘overcrowding’ and are attempting to use the problem they themselves created as justification for new school construction!”
Another criticism the petition supporters have for building immediately is that there is currently a seven-year interlocal agreement in place with Arlington Community Schools, and it includes an opt-out clause with three years’ notification required. If Lakeland opts out before the three years are up, it must still pay a seat fee to Arlington.
Floyd acknowledged that this is correct and estimated the cost would be about $230,000 to the Lakeland school district if Lakeland Prep opened for the 2017-2018 school year. He said it’s unlikely the district will be able to hit the 2017 opening goal and is more likely to open in 2018, when there would be no requirement to pay that fee.
Bond opponents also question the claim that professional opinions declare the bond issue and the $50 million school to be affordable for Lakeland. Shideler published a widely circulated document titled “Property Tax” that shows his math:
- He said the total value of all taxable land in Lakeland in 2013 was $307,262,405.
- Using the current published property tax rate of $0.85 per $100 of a property’s assessed value, the city generates $2,611,730 (land value X taxation rate). Of that tax revenue, Tennessee requires $0.15 to be used for school operations and doesn’t allow it to be used for debt reduction, Shideler said. Only $0.10 of the tax can be used for capital projects.
- So for 2013, that would have meant $460,894 in school operations funds and $307,262 in capital improvement funds.
- The $0.55 special property tax would generate $1,689,943.
- The half-cent local option sales tax will bring in an estimated $200,000 total revenue this year, dedicated to the schools.
- The school district’s bond specialist from PFM said the bond will cost the city about $3,480,000 annually.
- Shideler calculated that the total revenues the city has for debt is $2,197,205 (taxable land value + special property tax – bond debt).
- He said this leaves a deficit of an estimated $1,282,795.
That deficit could be made up by large and unlikely increases in properties’ assessed values and sales tax increases from huge retail growth. Shideler said he believes it will likely come from the city’s general fund or from money intended for the classroom.