Lakeland district marks historic moment in land purchase

Lakeland School System’s march toward building a middle school by the fall of 2018 continues to gain momentum, from this month’s decision by the state Comptroller’s office to allow the city to issue $20 million in capital outlay notes to the Aug. 13 signature of contract documents purchasing 94 acres of land from the Jones Gilliland Group LLC.

The land has been in the Jones family for almost 200 years. Development of the family’s remaining land holdings around the middle school is expected to create a master-planned community with diverse lot sizes, many mature trees, preservation of the land’s natural features, and the school as the community’s centerpiece.

Jim Mitchell Jr., a founding partner at the school district’s consulting firm, Southern Educational Strategies and former Shelby County Schools district superintendent, said the school and the surrounding community really have the potential to become the focus of Lakeland.

“This really has been a collaborative effort,” he said.

School board chair Kevin Floyd declared the deal a win for all involved. The Jones family allowed the school district to pick a school location with 1,000 acres to choose from.

He also said the family will retain the right to buy back the property if the land set aside for future high school building remains unimproved within the next 20 years.

Vice chairman of the school board Laura Harrison, said, “For this purchase, it sets up the longterm vision. We’re not just looking at what’s going on in the next five years. We’re looking at making sure we set up the Lakeland School System for 25 years and even longer through this process.”

Getting final approval from the Comptroller’s office to issue capital outlay notes was a major step toward the middle school’s eventually opening.

The city’s vice mayor, Sherri Gallick, was already confident that the city’s financial strength and the management Lakeland finance director Jessica Millspaugh would be convincing factors.

The choice to use capital outlay notes was not undertaken lightly.

“The board looked at all options for financing the upcoming middle school,” Gallick said in an offline conversation. “When we evaluated the data on the capital outlay note it stood out because it saves the city a lot of money. Today’s interest rates are pretty low and the city will be able to lock into a low fixed rate. For planning purposes, we used a 5 percent rate. Looking at the numbers, the capital outlay note savings are just shy of $12 million dollars in interest vs. a 30-year bond. That is a lot of money. This board takes our fiduciary responsibilities very seriously, and planning for Lakeland’s future is a top priority. If possible, you always want to pay off debt as sooner rather than later or you handcuff your future.”

She also said the opposition’s concerns are understandable. “Nobody likes taxes. I certainly do not, but to run a city and a school district there must be revenue. The city is actively pursing business opportunities and new phased residential development that will aid in this. However, you can not turn around a ship in a day. Many times commercial development takes years. If you have ever run or owned a successful business you have to be invested and responsible. You plan for growth and sustainability. You do not leave your future to circumstance. Planning for a city is no different, and that is what the board has done.”

Commissioner Clark Plunk also spoke offline about struggles to grow a school district despite some community pushback, and he laid a large portion of the blame at the feet of one of the opposition’s leaders.

“The number one person that that caused Lakeland to pass a property tax is the very reason we have one. Jim Bomprezzi [Sr.] forced Shelby County Schools to build Arlington High School because of his unreasonable attitude. Otherwise, the [Arlington] high school would probably have been built in Lakeland.”

Bomprezzi and a vocal group of concerned Lakeland citizens continue to question the middle school project’s funding method and timing on his Facebook page, “Lakeland Jim Bomprezzi,” with a rallying cry warning the city and school district that “this isn’t over yet.”