All board members were present including the newest member, Betsy Landers, who previously served as Parliamentarian on the board. No mention was made during the meeting to appoint a new Parliamentarian to fill Ms. Landers' vacancy.
We noticed Aldermen Forrest Owen and John Barzizza were in the audience. They were later joined by Dave Klevan. Prior to the Business Meeting, Aldermen Mary Ann Gibson and Rocky Janda walked in.
New School Location
Lisa Parker asked about traffic on Forrest Hill Irene Road. Patrick Lawton acknowledged that road work would have to be done and it was already scheduled. The mayor added that it was "serendipitous" that such work had already been planned before the new school location had even come up.
Natalie Williams asked about fire, police, and ambulance service to the school. The Mayor responded that Fire Station 1 covers that area and is located across the railroad tracks. However, in the event that emergency responders could not cross the tracks, then Collierville would respond. He said that they had already worked out those arrangements and have a good relationship with the Town of Collierville.
During the questioning, a couple of items came to light. First, the seller, Regency Homebuilders, has an option to purchase nearby property for residential development that could be developed as early as this Spring. Second, the School Board previously adopted a resolution giving A2H all site work for GMSD. So, there will be no need to bid out the job for evaluating the new school property.
Also brought to light was that once A2H begins its studies, the district will have invested so much money in evaluating this location that it would be unlikely to walk away from the contract with Regency. Ken Hoover pointed out that despite the contract allowing an easy out for $100, the truth of the matter is that GMSD would have so much money invested in the due diligence process that it could not afford to back out of the contract for capacious reasons such as a better location. He wanted people to know that approving this site would likely mean no further consideration of any other properties. Mr. Lawton reiterated that the contract did not force the City to purchase the property. But under questioning, Mr. Lawton did admit there were no comparisons with other properties being made. The Winchester tract was the only one under consideration.
Natalie Williams asked about community engagement was told by Mr. Manuel that GMSD would hold community forums like the Riverdale expansion project. Parents and teachers could discuss their "wish list" for the new school. He mentioned foreign language labs, STEM classrooms, modern technologies, and more.
Mr. Lawton emphasized that the big contingency in getting a new school would be the bond sale. He said, the City must have concrete figures in hand before it could go to bond market. Mr. Manuel said A2H could get to work on determining anticipated costs. Mr. Hoover said that it feels a little like the School Board is being given a bit of a false deadline. He then asked Mr. Lawton about the possibility of GMSD having an allowance and the autonomy to select its own school location. This ended the Work Session.
Alderman John Barzizza told the school board that even though he voted to sign the contract, he has subsequently learned that not all the facts were presented to the Board of Alderman last week. For example. the Aldermen were told that certain locations were not available because that property was not on the market. However, it has since come to Mr. Barzizza's attention that one specific parcel is indeed on the market for sale. He urged the school board to listen to the citizens and delay their vote.
Five other citizens also spoke against the board's approval of the city recommended site for the new school. Ann Atari urged the board to consider smaller tracts of land because she is not convinced it is a good idea to locate a public park next to an elementary schools. She cited safety concerns of having students play in a park open to anyone. Lia Savino asked the board if they wondered why Regency was willing to sell the property so cheap then listed electrical lines, a nearby behavioral facility, and other issues with the site. She also urged the board to engage the community before deciding where to locate the new school. Sheila Hahn complained that the selection process was too fast. She said that people deserve both candor and a voice in selecting the site of their new school. She noted that the Mayor and Board of Aldermen had presented the Winchester tract as the only suitable property available. She pointedly asked what would happen if the seller backed out of the deal, would GMSD be unable to build a new school at all since the City has already determined no other viable alternatives exist?
When approval of the new school site came up on the agenda, Natalie Williams started the discussion by listing GMSD successes that came about because of stakeholder engagement. She wants the people to be happy with their new school. Stating she was unsure of the proper way to make a request of the board, she said she would be willing to make a motion or whatever to survey the public and hold informational sessions before making this decision.
Ken Hoover commented that the Board used to have a Parliamentarian to decide such matters but now, the Parliamentarian is on the Board and he gets to sit in her old chair. He then asked if there needed to be a motion on the floor before the Board could discuss the matter? But no one answered him. So, he continued with the discussion. Like Ms. Williams, Mr. Hoover also wants to engage the public before voting on the new school location. He told the other board members that schools are very permanent things in the community and it is not likely they will be torn down and moved. He noted that the property where Germantown High School sits, has been the site of a school for over 100 years. He finished by saying we must be very sure and make wise choices in determining the location of our new school. He also added that he was not opposed to the City's recommended site but wanted to engage the public before voting on it.
Linda Fisher thanked the Mayor and City Administrator Patrick Lawton for their hard work. She noted that the current schools are overcrowded and that portables were not a long term solution so the district definitely needs a new school. But she has questions and would like answers before the board makes a decisions.
Betsy Landers also thanked Mayor Palazzolo and Mr. Lawton for their work in selecting property for the new school. But she wants to take a step back and listen to the people before approving a location.
Lisa Parker's Comments
From there, she attacked the idea of children needing a walkable path to school. She mentioned being a crossing guard at Riverdale where a boy who lived across the street from the school but was driven daily to and from school. She feels walking to school is overrated and most parents do not or should not allow their children to walk to school. She mentioned Dogwood parents in particular. Then, she went on to say that by the time this new school is built, GMSD will have its own in-house transportation and will provide bus service to students. We wondered if she remembers voting on the parental responsibility zone which restricts bus access for children living within 1.5 to 2 miles from school.
She then summed up her experience as an Aldermen, member of numerous City Commissions, and as a School Board member by saying, 20% of the people hate you no matter what; 20% love you no matter what; and 60% don't care--that 60% is the people she represents, the ones who do not know what is going on and probably don't realize a school is being built. She went on to say, she did not want to lose this opportunity and it would only cost the board $100 if the location did not work out.
You should probably see it for yourselves, click the link for the video. Ms. Parker's comments begin at 3:12:03
Ms. Williams said, she would like to address the motion and insisted that more public feedback is needed before the board should make any decisions. She emphasized it was important for the board to first hear from its stakeholders before approving any new school site.
Ken Hoover followed up Ms. Williams' remarks by once again wishing the board had a Parliamentarian. He wanted to know the proper way to lay Parker's motion on the table for later consideration. Ms. Landers said the motion would be to table the motion. Ms. Fisher said there is already a motion on the table. Ms. Landers said, yes but Mr. Hoover would like to table it. At which point, Mr. Hoover moved to table the pending motion. Ms. Fisher quickly seconded it. Then, Ms. Landers explained that tabling a motion cuts off further discussion so now, she must call for the vote.
Vote to Table the Motion:
Natalie Williams: YES
Linda Fisher: YES
Lisa Parker: NO
Betsy Landers: YES
Ken Hoover: YES
With that, the motion to approve the Winchester tract was tabled and Ms. Fisher adjourned the meeting.
Mr. Hoover interrupted by saying, he wanted to make sure the Superintendent was planning public meetings about the new school location. Mr. Manuel said he and his staff would take care of it. Then, the meeting was adjourned.
Approval of a $10K anonymous donation to Houston High School for improvements to the auditorium.
Waiving current policy to allow HHS Band to donate its old band uniforms to Raleigh Egypt High School.
Approval of the Skyward contract. This will allow the district to switch from PowerSchool to Skyward, a software system used by 54 other districts in Tennessee. Skyward provides both business and student services for the district and will save GMSD approximately $100K.