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Jim Is Wrong

In a recent article for the Hendersonville StandardCounty Commissioner Jim Vaughn raised questions about the budget for our schools, specifically on the need for new investment in schools. Vaughn makes three claims I'd like to address. Vaughn's three claims are:  New investment in schools is not necessary, additional funds for personnel do not help students, and increasing support for schools will not result in improved test scores. 

I'd like to begin by noting that Dr. Phillips and the School Board laid out budget plans starting July and in meetings in August. Jim Vaughn was not present at those meetings, even though they were open to the public. The budget was then voted on by the Education Committee of the Sumner County Commission on September 8th. The minutes of that meeting reflect that Vaughn was not present to raise the concerns he voiced on November 21 in a newspaper article. Finally, the School Board's budget was passed at the County Commission meeting of September 15th. At that meeting, Dr. Phillips took questions from Commissioners are the proposed expenditures. Jim Vaughn was not present at that meeting to ask questions, raise concerns, or vote against the budget. Now, more than two months after the budget passed, Jim Vaughn is complaining that he doesn't like parts of it. That's simply disingenuous. 

Now, on to his first argument: Vaughn suggests we simply don't need new investment in schools. This is surprising as Vaughn represents the fastest-growing area in Sumner County. A tour of the schools in his district would demonstrate rapid growth.  In fact, over the past 10 years, Sumner County has added around 350 students per year -- or, the equivalent of an entire new elementary or middle school every two years. Part of the planned spending on schools is a 5 year plan to proactively address this rapid growth. It's a plan that maximizes existing space and efficiently spends funds. That is, rather than build a new school every two years, Sumner County will be taking advantage of and improving the facilities it has to manage growth. 

Next, Vaughn expresses concern that hiring new teachers means that the School Board is prioritizing personnel over students. Pitting teachers against students is one of the most cynical approaches used by those who don't understand how schools work. Strong teachers impact the lives of students every single day. A growing system needs to have adequate staff to meet the needs of current and future students. The alternative would be larger class sizes and less individual attention. Supporting personnel in the schools directly benefits the students those schools serve. Moreover, the new school system budget includes funds to improve teacher pay and adjust staff pay. This means Sumner County can both attract strong new teachers and keep the great teachers we already have. That's a win for students and their families. 

Finally, Vaughn wonders if investing in schools will have an impact on test scores. While that hypothetical proposition will only be answered in time, it is clear that those systems who consistently perform at high levels also invest significantly in their schools. Of the 10 systems that have the highest 3-year ACT average, 9 of them spend more per student than Sumner County. On average, those systems spend $1500 more per student than our system. That is to say, at the very least, there's a correlation between investment in schools and results in terms of student achievement. 

I regret that Commissioner Vaughn missed opportunities in September to more fully engage in the school budget process. I hope that going forward, he'll engage with the School Board, his fellow County Commissioners, and the parents and teachers in his district in order to gain a better understanding of the needs of our schools.