The Loudon County Board of Education gave Director of Schools Jason Vance the go-ahead Thursday to ask county commission to move forward on funding the next phase of school construction.
The two major projects would be connecting Loudon Elementary School and Fort Loudoun Middle School, and adding a new wing onto Loudon High School.
The board also approved moving forward with some smaller undertakings, including adding an access road at Philadelphia Elementary School, repairing the roof at the old Greenback School and renovating the roof at the Loudon County Technology Center.
While the connector project and the high school renovations will likely be funded through the county's $43 million allocation, Vance said he planned to ask for the other construction plans to be paid for through the adequate facilities tax.
"I don't know if they will allow us the opportunity to use adequate facilities tax for all those spaces I just mentioned, but that's something the board needs to consider as well," Vance said.
Board member Scott Newman said a proposed access road at Philadelphia was a critical need.
"We need to do that as quick as we can because we've got people in the afternoons that are on the highway sitting by a blind hill, and there's going to be bad wreck there," Newman said.
During a workshop prior to the regular meeting, BOE members met with Bill Ambrose III and Brian McDonald, with Knoxville-based Weeks Ambrose McDonald, about specific aspects of the school connector project.
McDonald said the largest part of the project, which will cost about $2 million, was the "base bid" portion, which includes an administrative and student services wing between the two schools. That portion of the project also includes enlarging library and cafeteria space and constructing road access that will serve both schools.
Two alternative projects include renovating and enlarging classroom pod space at the two facilities. The total cost of the elementary and middle school project is $4.85 million.
In an unrelated matter, the board heard from numerous members of the public about a recent change to the agenda that removes public comment from the end of regular board meetings and designates a comment period only for items on the agenda at the start of each meeting. The public is able to comment on items on or off the agenda at the end of the board's scheduled workshops.
"I believe that at these meetings, the public should be able to talk about items on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and on any item they want at the end of the meeting," Wayne Schnell said in a prepared statement. "... Why even have a public meeting if you are not open to hearing different opinions and things you have not thought of?"
Reading from board policy 1.403, Vance said the executive committee, which consists of Vance and Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr., prepares the agenda prior to each meeting, and the order of items on the agenda could be changed.
"In my opinion and after consultation with some attorneys, I believe we're appropriate in the way that we're handling business," Vance said.
He also cited a vote that took place on Nov. 13, 2008, in which the school board approved adding nonagenda items to the end of board meetings in recognizing visitors.
"We followed that process for several months, but this was never placed in policy," Vance said. "That was just a recommendation by the board at that point and time, and again, it's my understanding that we can continue doing business the way that we're currently doing business. However, the board can change this at any time that they would wish."
Board member Jeremy Buckles, who, along with Kenny Ridings, attended the meeting via Internet teleconference, said he felt the public should be able to speak at the end of regular meetings. Ridings said the board was under no obligation to hear from the public.
"There's nothing in state law or anywhere else that says we have to allow anyone to speak at meetings, so I think this is going way beyond what most schools (systems) do," Ridings said. "... I think this is very good that we do allow people to speak."
Member Leroy Tate said by allowing public comments at workshops and at the beginning of regular meetings, the board was "cutting all that red tape out" for residents to be able to speak.
"We hear we don't follow policy, we don't follow policy," Tate said. "This is one time that the community is getting a break on policy because if we followed policy, you've got to submit seven days in advance to the director, and the director's got to get it to us, plus on top of that , you've got to (give) the board members documentation on what you're going to talk about and all this. ... They're getting to talk without going through this."