Lakeland approaches middle school land purchase

Lakeland School System's logoLakeland’s plans to purchase 94 acres and begin designing a middle school are looking promising. The school board’s consultants expect to have a contract ready by the end of July.

The board met for a little over an hour in front of a sparse audience for Monday night’s work session, discussing agenda items for their July 13 business meeting.

Topics included coming in under budget for the district’s first school year, the status of roof repairs and funding, contracts affecting progress for the new middle school and Lakeland Elementary School’s computer upgrades.

Middle school update

Dr. James B. Mitchell, a principal for the district’s consulting company, Southern Educational Strategies, reported good progress in negotiating the many details of the contract to buy the 94-acre site for the middle school.

The negotiations come in the wake of the Lakeland city board’s approval of the school board’s five-year capital improvement plans. The 94-acre property includes room for eventual construction of a high school.

Mitchell predicted that a land purchase contract would be ready for the school board’s approval before the end of July.

The property owners and those who plan to develop the land around the school are currently reviewing the proposed contract.

Mitchell, a former Shelby County Schools superintendent, has worked with more than 21 new school construction projects, and he assured the board that this negotiation process is not unusual.

School board member Matt Wright was pleased to hear that developers are still interested and involved in the project after its reduction in scope to a middle school, and he expects to see growth in Lakeland.

Mitchell agreed that the city’s prospects are bright.

“In all my years of working with schools and school construction, I have never seen a school in this county, when it was built, that did not spur significant residential development around the new school,” Mitchell said. “… It’s not supposition. It’s not maybe. I’ve never seen one that didn’t spur residential growth.”

Under budget

The school district came in far under budget for its first school year, board chairman Kevin Floyd reported.

“I’d like to thank Dr. Horrell for his leadership on that,” he said. “It’s been a remarkable journey, and I think that we have managed our resources very effectively.”

The district will start its second school year with an operating reserve of more than $450,000 unspent during its first year of operations, Horrell said.

Adding the anticipated property and sales tax (which will still be arriving in July and August), the district should start the 2015-16 school year with an operating reserve closer to $600,000, he said.

“What that amounts to is a reserve of nearly 8.5 percent of our first-year budget,” Horrell said. “That was definitely one of the stated goals in the system, to establish a healthy reserve.”

Having 5 percent of a district’s funding in reserve is considered healthy, and the goal is between 5 and 10 percent. He doesn’t expect to see an 8.5 percent reserve added every year, but conservative use of funds made it possible this time.

“We’re in a tremendous position to start, and I’d say our approach paid off,” Horrell said.

Elementary roof

Lou Melton, a Lakeland resident, questioned the board on the status of roof repairs to the elementary school and the nearly $1 million in county capital funds set aside for the school’s roofing and HVAC repairs.

She asked the superintendent to speak on the record about the funds and the possible lingering presence of mold at the school from previous leaks.

Superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell said Shelby County Schools has set aside the one-time allocation of $990,000 for the work at Lakeland Elementary School (planned when it was still within the SCS system). Lakeland School System can submit invoices for the repairs to get reimbursements from those funds.

The roofing and HVAC work are planned for the summer of 2016.

How the funds would be used was an open question earlier this school year: The board authorized stop-gap repairs for bad patches on the roof, and the leaks stopped. Horrell reported to the board that the newly repaired roof should last for another year. The LSS board then asked that SCS let Lakeland use those funds toward a land purchase for new construction (and later pay for the roof repairs with LSS funds).

SCS denied the request after Lakeland voters defeated a $50 million bond issuance for the construction in April.

The funds reverted to the original usage of roof and HVAC repairs, but there was not sufficient time to arrange the work for 2015.

A study while the school was under SCS jurisdiction showed trace amounts of mold spores in the air of rooms where there had been roof leaks.

Horrell said Shelby County did an abatement on the mold issue, cleaned up the rooms and had a follow-up study showed that elevated levels of mold were no longer in the air at the school.

Melton said SCS addressed the mold issue in March and April 2014 and she has read the report about mold being found in the vents, but she’s not satisfied the study thoroughly investigated the presence of mold.

She believes that no one took the vents apart and investigated the area between the roof and the vents, and the heat and air condenser units themselves were not checked for mold. She is concerned about health risks.

Melton also said the final report is not clear on whether the air conditioning units were even turned on in April 2014 when SCS had the school re-inspected for mold.

The board and superintendent did not specify whether there would or would not be further studies of the school building or its HVAC units to rule out potentially hidden patches of mold.

Horrell’s contract

Extending the superintendent’s contract for two more years drew board support Monday night, and it will be on Monday’s agenda.

Floyd praised Horrell’s skills in managing the district, and board member Laura Harrison also praised his performance in the district’s first year and how well he researches, prepares for board meetings and follows up to answer questions quickly.

Harrison said, “I think Dr. Horrell has done an amazing job of wearing many, many hats.”

SES’s contract

The original contract with SES covered the planned $50 million Lakeland Prep, a combined middle and high school. After the bond referendum failure in April, the compromise choice of building just the middle school component was a large change of scope. That meant a new contract was needed with SES.

The original contract was for just under $80,000 annually in fees to SES; a new contract is proposed for $48,000 annually.

Other terms are essentially the same, Horrell said.

The proposed new contract will come before the board for approval on July 13 and will include the middle school capital project as well as the research, bidding and construction of the elementary school’s roof and HVAC replacements to be completed next summer.

Other business

At Monday’s meeting, the school board reported:

  • IT updates. New laptops are being imaged and set up for Lakeland Elementary teachers and the school’s two computer labs. The labs’ former iMacs are being moved into classrooms, and the teachers’ old laptops are being reimaged and repurposed for student use. The building is also getting a major network upgrade.
  • Staffing updates. One fourth/fifth-grade teaching position has opened up, and five teacher positions have been filled because of two moves, two promotions and two lateral moves. The board has hired an accounting analyst and a LEAP coordinator. Sara Garner (formerly of Elmore Park Middle School in Bartlett) was chosen as the new assistant principal for Lakeland Elementary. She replaces former Lakeland Elem-entary assistant principal Julie Reagan, who was chosen as the principal for Sycamore Elementary School in Collierville. Regarding LEAP, Horrell said he would have a separate LEAP budget ready for the board’s review at the July 13 meeting.
  • New policies. The board agreed to put new policies on next week’s meeting agenda, including authorization for running a before/after school program as an in-house venture, plans for a school board self-evaluation, and creation of an annual list of recurring agenda items.
  • Policy updates. The board also added agenda items for routine policy updates on line item transfers and other policy updates based on state law changes. Those affect teachers’ tenure, separation of a child sexual abuse victim from an alleged child perpetrator on school property, and students’ self-management of certain prescription medications.
  • New procedures. The board added agenda items for next week’s meeting on creating formal agreements with approved school support organizations (such as educational foundations, booster clubs, PTA, etc.), approval of a three-member ethics committee, and selection of two hearing officers for tenure appeals.
  • Teacher pay. The board supported keeping the district’s current differentiated pay plan and salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Horrell said he will work with teachers during the 2015-16 school year to develop a system for the district that balances rewarding teachers for multiple factors (such as achievements and advanced degrees relevant to their classes.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to