By Misty Green
Macon County Commissioners held a public hearing on Monday, April 3rd to discuss implementing a new wheel tax to help fund a new vocational school in order for TCAT to continue servicing Macon County students.
“What I want to do is read the letter that got us into the position we are in tonight,” Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said, as he opened the topic for discussion.
“This was a letter sent to the Board of Education, from Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT),” Mayor Jones said, as he began reading the two-page request written by TCAT President Mae Wright.
“TCAT is proud to serve Macon County and our entire area. As Macon County officials and citizens discuss the future of career and technical education, please allow me to provide background information that I hope will bring more clarity to a discussion that is so important to the County and it’s students, now and for generations to come. Among the points of discussion as the possibility of Macon County building a new Vocational School, it is important to know that TCAT has not requested that the County commit to building a new career and technical education CTE Center as a condition of our continued partnership to provide dual-enrollment CTE programs for Macon County Students. As the areas primary provider of workforce training, we are eager to continue our partnership with Macon County to provide these opportunities that enable high school students to earn college CTE Credit, and in many cases, Students are served CTE Certificates and Diplomas by the time the student graduates from high school. But we have never sited a new CTE Building as condition of continuing our student training partnership. TCAT Hartsville currently provides two-dual enrollment programs at Macon County High School and we are committed to providing additional local dual-enrollment programs as space allows, but it is Macon County’s decision how to provide any additional space needed to expand these programs. Much of the discussion has focused on the future of Tri-County Extension Campus, Tri-County Vocational School in Red Boiling Springs, established decades ago, partnerships among Clay, Jackson, and Macon Counties, with administration and CTE instruction provided by TCAT, Hartsville beginning in 2008. Clay County pulled out of the center in 2007, and enrollment of Jackson County students has sharply declined as they have been growing CTE programs locally at their high school campus. In July 2021, after thirteen years of operating in the Center, TCAT Hartsville communicated to the Directors of both Macon County and Jackson County Schools, that we could no longer continue administration of the Tri-County campus, beyond the 2021-2022 academic year. That decision was based on a comprehensive operational assessment and measured historical data and projected future in academic and economic outcomes.
The 2021 assessment concluded that the college would continue to incur substantial financial deficits if it continued the contractural agreement for administration of Tri-County. Deficits incurred by TCAT Hartsville at Tri-County increased in recent years, primarily due to declining enrollments, which appear to result from increased scheduling conflicts at the students home schools, early graduation policies, sports related programs and other dual-enrollment opportunities at their home schools. Another factor in the decision, is an unsatisfactory rate of direct articulation by students from the Tri-County Dual-enrollment programs to TCAT Hartsville’s post-secondary programs. In addition, a facilities assessment was conducted in 2008 by Tennessee Board of Regents, design consultant estimated renovation and upgrade costs of the Tri-County Extension campus, at several million dollars. Fifteen years later the facility is still in need of numerous and now more costly capital maintenance projects. However, as the campus is not owned by TCAT Hartsville, it does not qualify for capital maintenance funding appropriation to the state’s community and technical college system and the declining enrollment and unsustainable financial deficits would not facilitate TCAT Hartsville assuming ownership of the center. When TCAT Hartsville’s planned exit at Tri-County was communicated to the Macon County Board of Education administration, it was asked if TCAT Hartsville would consider continuing the relationship providing Dual-enrollment CTE program, if a new CTE Building was built on the campus of Macon County High School in Lafayette. During the 2021-2022 academic year, negotiations ensued between the Macon County Board of Education Administration and TCAT Hartsville, for the college to remain at Tri-County until a CTE building could be built at Macon County High School. As a result of those discussions, TCAT Hartsville agreed to remain as administrator of the Tri-County Extension campus, and provide Dual-enrollment through June 2025, with an agreement that if Macon County did choose to provide and or transfer to CTE programs from Tri-County to Macon County High School, the college would operate Tri-County by extension agreements through June 2027, to give the Board of Education administration enough time to transition from Tri-County to Macon County CTE Building. TCAT Hartsville’s continued partnership with Macon County to provide Dual-enrolled students with CTE programs is not incumbent upon a new CTE building. We will work with Macon County to provide such programs as space and facilities allows. In conclusion, TCAT Hartsville is fully committed to Macon County and it’s students and will continue to serve them with technical and career education opportunities as they need to help their families and communities succeed. We are also fully committed to working with Macon County and the Board of Education to provide those opportunities in the best ways possible.”
After reading the letter, Mayor Jones re-affirmed this was the reason for the called public hearing today, giving citizens opportunities to voice their opinion for or against this matter.
“Yes, they are not saying we need to build a new building,” Jones explained. “The Commissioners and myself, we do not want to have to build a new building, but it is kind of obvious when we read through the lines, that we don’t have anywhere for these kids to go, and we’re going to have to build a building, and that’s what puts us into this position.”
“The only way for us to afford to build the building, is through revenues generated from property tax and wheel tax,” Mayor Jones continued, adding, “as things progress in this county, with the growth that we are having, one of the things that everyone says, the most fairest tax there would be was to add a wheel tax.”
Macon County Board of Education Director Shawn Carter was then asked to speak, and he said, “last week I got a phone call from a gentleman asking about enrollment, saying he read somewhere on some blog, that there were only like 30 kids attending Vocational School from our County and he just couldn’t see why we were spending that much money. I told him that was absolutely wrong. I received a breakdown of past student enrollment and current student enrollment, and currently right now, this school year, we are serving 39 kids from Red Boiling and 287 from Macon County High School. That is well above the 30 that he had read posted somewhere. The buildings are being used. Our kids are attending classes there. And just as an example, Nursing was moved from the Vocational School to Macon County High School in 2021. There was 33 students in the program. We have 88 this year. So, just putting it on campus, increased enrollment by that many students.” “Megatronics, we planned on having Megatronics at Macon County High School this year, but there wasn’t enough space and we had to move it back to the Vocational School. 49 kids had signed up for that class, and had to be pulled out and reassigned. So 49 kids, that would have liked to have taken that could no longer because we didn’t have space for them. I know it has been said that we can just transport them to Hartsville to the Vocational School, the same way we transport them to Red Boiling. I spoke to Mae Wright myself, and that is not an option for high school kids. It’s an option once they graduated, but then they have to start from scratch and start form square one on their own dime, in a lot of instances. They are getting Dual-enrollment credit, high school credit and college hours credit by attending Vocational School while they are in high school. We have many kids that leave ready for the workforce. They got all their hours and passed all their credit and certification tests. Those not ready, can transition to the Vocational School at the Hartsville site post-graduate and their path to employment is very much shorter than it would be. This county needs CTE available students to enter the workforce,” Carter explained.
“Mr. Snow, I want to let you know I mis-spoke the other day and I checked it out for myself and I am going to clear it up with you. You had asked me the difference between bussing the kids from Red Boiling Springs to Macon County High, and I said it was about five or six minutes difference. That was what I was told. I was at Red Boiling the other day, and I thought I am not going to go by what I was told, and I am going to count it myself. So, I drove from parking lot at Red Boiling Springs to the parking lot at the Vocational School, and it took me right at five minutes. I then drove back to Red Boiling Springs parking lot and drove back to Macon County High School, and it took me just a little shy of thirteen minutes. So, when I told you five or six minutes, I was shy just a little bit and wanted to clear that up,” Director Carter said, adding, “Enrollment will increase if the campus is onsite at Macon County High School.”
“How you want to pay for it, that is up to ya’ll,” Director Carter stated, adding, “all the money the school system has is going into the elementary school.”
“They never said, build us a school building or we are not coming, they said we are not coming back to that building. If you can find a place for us at Macon County High School, we will be glad to continue. We have teachers floating that do not have a classroom now,” Carter said.
A commissioner asked Mr. Carter, when the new school is built, there will be two vacant buildings in Macon County, so what is keeping them from moving into one of those buildings? Mr. Carter responded saying, ”we are not going to have two buildings open. When we build the 3-5 grade school, were still going to have to utilize two of our buildings. And the other building, which is planned to be Lafayette Elementary School, we have talked about possibly, moving the Board of Education there, since Maintenance is already there on location. That is not in stone, but that is the discussion that we have had. But one of the reasons why we are moving out of Lafayette Elementary School is the plumbing is not suitable for a school setting, however it would be for 30 to 40 people.”
Mayor Jones then opened the floor for citizen discussion. The first gentleman, spoke and said it was not the tax payers fault the County didn’t have no money, because we give you $65 dollars every year. The next was a comment that if the wheel tax was raised, that Macon County’s tax would be the highest in the State of Tennessee. Shelby County has a population of over one million people and Macon County has 28,000 people, but the property taxes here would be higher. Mayor Jones clarified on the comment, saying that if passed, the tax would be $100, and that is only .50¢ higher than what Shelby County’s (tax rate) is. One man said he thought it should be put on the wheel tax only. Would it be cheaper to renovate these buildings?
Mayor Jones clarified during the meeting that 75% of the Wheel tax goes into debt services, and 25% goes in to the general operating fund. There was no motion made concerning the proposed wheel tax increase, however, the motion could be brought up at the April 17th meeting.
After all citizens that wished to speak had been heard, Mayor Jones closed the discussion and went back into the meeting session.
The Commission then voted to approve the minutes from the previous meeting.
Budget Amendments for the following departments were approved and sent on to the full body meeting: EMS department amendment; RBS Fire Department amendment; Circuit Court amendment; Planning Commission amendment; Election Commission amendment.
A Child Abuse Prevention Proclamation; and an Opioid Settlement Resolution.
When addressing the Macon County Roads Department, Mayor Jones said the storm that came through the area last Monday was classified as a EF1 and did damage in the county. Since then, he has been working with TEMA and FEMA to see what all needs to be done.
The Water Resource Development Act was discussed. Terry Goad is planning on retiring from the Planning Commission and this will be sent on to the full body meeting. Animal Control’s monthly report was approved to be sent on to the full body.
Winding Stairs entrance is ready to go, and the roadway will be bid out soon.