Bond issue supporters want to build Lakeland Prep now. They say:
- Interest rates are low,
- Property costs are low,
- Arlington has capacity issues, and
- Schools are needed for Lakeland to compete with other cities for residential and business growth.
Bond supporters say the capacity issues are Arlington Middle School and, to a lesser extent, at the high school, are real and won’t go away.
Lakeland school board chairman Kevin Floyd disagreed with the 96 percent calculation of Arlington Middle School’s capacity (with portable buildings included). That figure was provided by Mike Shideler, one of the bond opponents, based on data he received from Arlington school officials.
Floyd said Arlington Middle School has been over capacity since 2012, according to Shelby County Schools, when that district managed AMS. He said that shared spaces like hallways and cafeterias will still be overcrowded, no matter the use of portables for classrooms.
Floyd said statements that Lakeland’s school board contributed to overcrowding at AMS are incorrect. According to Shelby County, the pre-municipal system AMS was already over capacity, he said. “We didn’t do anything to change that. That was already there.”
Even so, Arlington was glad to agree to accept the 50-70 Bon Lin children as part of negotiations for the Lakeland-Arlington interlocal agreement, Floyd said. The belief was that children leaving the system would balance out the influx of children at the middle school.
“Point being, it would be 100 percent or over without those kids,” Floyd said. “And Arlington is going to continue to grow.”
About the high school, Floyd said that even if people accept the statement that Arlington High School can handle 2,400 students, that only allows for about 400 students to be added as both Arlington and Lakeland school systems grow.
“What we’re trying to do is plan for the long-term security of the Lakeland School System,” he said. “And 400 kids is not a lot as you’re trying to plan for down the road.”
Floyd also did not agree with some of Arlington superintendent Tammy Mason’s statements about Arlington having to make hard choices if they lose all of Lakeland’s high school students. He said he doesn’t believe there will be much of a negative impact to the Arlington High School’s ability to offer specialized classes, programs and other amenities if Lakeland pulls out its middle and highschool students, along with their $11 million in state and county funding, to attend Lakeland Prep.
“We’ll offer AP classes, and we’ll be much smaller than they will,” he said.
He also believes Lakeland Prep can offer plenty to students even during its initial years of operation while enrollment is ramping up. “Outside of Shelby County, most public high schools are well below 2,000 and still offer full amenities of sports, AP and honors, and we believe we’ll be able to do the same.”
He said local control is more of an issue than the petition group is stating. Although Lakeland parents can still speak to the Arlington school board, they don’t have a say on who is on the board, which sets the district’s policies. Those are the policies that affect the educational experience, he said.
For example, Arlington has an open enrollment policy that raises some concerns about its school capacity issues, Floyd said. Lakeland doesn’t have a non-resident policy because the existing school is pretty much at capacity, he said.
Floyd also said the Lakeland school board fielded calls from parents earlier this school year when there was a threatened shooting at Arlington High School, and the Lakeland board had to say they had no details — they found out about it on Facebook as many parents did.
The bond supporters have buy-in from parents like Darla Mangan, a Lakeland mother of three elementary-age children, who is is solidly behind the Lakeland Prep project and the bond issue. She cited overcrowding at AMS and a forward-looking attitude for education Lakeland’s children as her driving factors in a letter that explainedher views.
“There has been an issue with the past government and mindset to let the other areas take care of us so we don’t have to pay more,” Mangan wrote. “The new BOC [Board of Commissioners] is realizing that the community of Lakeland has changed from what it was 15 years ago and we want to take care of our communities’ children. The previous elected officials for Lakeland have created much of the mess Lakeland residents are trying to sort now by their ineffectiveness in preparing for the future of Lakeland.Business wise as well as educational wise. Also just because some signed the petition doesn’t mean they are against the bond only that if the few on the other side want their say at the polls they should be allowed. At almost every meeting the support for the bond and Lakeland Prep is overwhelmingly more popular than the small few who are against it.”
It’s not just current residents who are watching the Lakeland Prep project and hoping for it to succeed; Floyd said he has heard from realtors that home buyers are wary of moving to Lakeland as long as they are unsure where their children will attend middle and high school, even with the Arlington agreement.
“Parents don’t want for there to be uncertainty,” Floyd said.
A document posted on the YesforPrep.com site states that waiting until the interlocal agreement with Arlington expires is not a good option: “There is an immediate need to address the overcrowding issue at Arlington. Also, land prices and interest rates are at historic lows right now. It would cost more to wait.”
Cost is one of the major public opinion issues that bond supporters are addressing. Floyd firmly believes that the city and school district have gotten sound professional advice that Lakeland can manage the debt.
“The city can afford to pay,” Floyd said.
School bond opponents, however, have taken a different look at the numbers and come to a different conclusion. Lakeland resident Mike Shideler (a bond opponent) has compiled documents based on data provided by the school district, its consultants and public sources.
In discounting Shideler’s cost calculations, some bond supporters have questioned whether an average citizen’s calculations are valid, compared to professional opinions from the city and school boards’ consultants.
Shideler, a mechanical engineering graduate from Purdue and the son of an Edward Jones broker, says his evaluations are based on data, not opinions, and his calculations are basic enough that anyone who can balance a checkbook should be able to replicate them. He has traded stocks, bonds and options for the past 25 or more years for his personal accounts and knows the relevant concepts. He has used the other side’s numbers to make his calculations and has invited the public to make corrections if there are errors. So far, no one has pointed out any factual errors, he said.
In other pro-bond arguments, supporters have also said that taxation won’t be as bad as claimed for Lakeland’s residents.
A chart provided by Randy Gallick of Lakeland compares current and projected future taxation for Lakeland residents; see below. (Click chart to enlarge.)
In other arguments in favor of building now, a document posted on the YesforPrep.com website states that Lakeland Prep will enhance residents’ property values: “Realtors have confirmed time and time again that having a K-12 system in Lakeland will be great for Lakeland property values. In fact, Realtors have told us not having a K-12 system is hurting Lakeland property values right now.”
Lakeland mayor Wyatt Bunker and Floyd have said the bond issue, along with the city’s taxes, reserves, lean budgeting practices and the $11 million annually in state and county funds for Lakeland children’s educational needs, will be enough to fund the school construction. They basetheir statement on expert advice from a professional consulting firm (PFM) and the city’s auditors.
“They all say we can do it right now with funds and revenue that Lakeland has,” Floyd said. “There’s no reason to believe there will be future tax increases, based on what we’ve heard from our advisors.”
Bunker said the professionals’ estiamtes use conservative growth projections and do not even count on on income from new Lakeland businesses like the Sprouts grocery store moving into the old Kroger location. (He estimated that will bring in $500,000 annually.)
He said if the city takes on the bond issuance, it’s projected to operate in the red until 2023, and the total amount to subsidize the city through then would be $2.5 million, available from the city’s reserves of approximately $6 million. Bond payments also will include principal and interest, so there is nothing owed on the bonds at the end of 30 years.
In any case, if there should be a referendum and the bond issue fails, that will not mean all plans for Lakeland Prep are doomed. Floyd said the school board is still exploring the public-private partnership (P3) option as part of the funding and will continue to work toward building Lakeland Prep.
But bond supporters don’t expect a referendum to fail.
Lakeland school superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell defers to the city board for financing the Lakeland Prep project, but he said he’s confident that the bond issue will pass if it comes to a vote.
“Lakeland was the only municipality with even token resistance to to the formation of municipal school systems, and that issue still passed with more than 87 percent of the vote,” Horrell said. “My feeling is that the majority of people that supported the creation of municipal schools will also support the development of a K-12 school system. Many of the voices that objected to the municipal system and predicted Lakeland could not afford a K-5 system are leading the opposition to the bond issuance, so I expect similar, though perhaps less overwhelming, results.”
He did add a comment about the referendum efforts. “I will say I completely respect and understand the desire of some citizens to force a vote on this issue. I believe they think they are acting in the best interest of Lakeland.”