In Franklin, Page Middle and High School are so overcrowded that parents like Karen Hynes say it’s become untenable—kids eating lunch in hallways, overflowing toilets, too many portable classrooms.
“My middle schooler starts eating lunch at 9:45 in the morning,” Hynes says. “The hallways are so overcrowded that it becomes a safety issue. They don’t have the broadband WiFi capacity.”
Williamson County is at a tipping point. Its schools have become so in demand that it can’t handle the 2,000 new students it gets every year. Parents are irritated as plans for expansion lag. And to deal with the overcrowding, county commissioners are staring down an inevitable tax hike to make the numbers add up.
The county has been scrambling in recent weeks to push through a massive expansion project that the district says it needs to avoid further overcrowding. Otherwise it has threatened to move some students to other schools. Initially, officials deferred expansion plans for Page as well as for schools in Brentwood, causing an uproar among parents.
In recent years, families with small children have flocked to Williamson County, seeking the very schools that now have more students than they can handle. The county consistently leads the state in academic performance, even while spending less per student than most other school districts. But Superintendent Mike Looney told an auditorium filled with Page parents last week that, at some point, something’s got to give.
“I can tell you, as plain as day, the county commission can’t do the things that you want them to do without more revenue,” he says.
By revenue, he means higher taxes.
“It’s just that simple,” Looney continues. “There is not enough money to pay for all the things we need.”
In November, the county approved a tax on new home construction called an "impact fee" to help fund schools. But officials say it only covers a quarter of what’s needed. To fill the gap, commissioners are mulling a small sales tax increase. Others say a hike in property taxes is inevitable — though it’s sure to be a fight.
Outside the meeting, Laura Holder, whose kids will eventually go to Page, says the answer is simple: Stop making it so easy to build new homes in Williamson County. She complains that while cities are the ones green lighting new developments, county gets stuck footing the bill for their education.
“It does feel like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” she says. “Until we kind of get the growth under control, no matter what happens with all these new revenue streams, they are not enough to keep up with the needs of the county.”
If the disconnect continues, Holder says, Williamson County will never stop playing catch up.
The county will vote on the plan to expand Page and Brentwood schools at Monday’s Commissioners meeting.