Special meeting to discuss Learning Center rates

Xavier Smith • May 15, 2018 at 4:52 PM

The Wilson County Board of Education will hold a special called meeting May 23 at 5 p.m. to discuss Learning Center rates after the group reached an impasse on the issue earlier this month.

Board members could not reach a solution on the district’s recommendation to increase the Learning Center rates $60 per week per child starting July 1. The proposed weekly rate for children up to 36 months would be $195, and $185 for children 37-60 months. The sibling discount would be $20.

Watertown Middle School teacher Carrie Thompson, who was named a Wilson County Teacher of the Year at her school this year, addressed the board prior to the group’s discussion on the potential increase.

“For years, I have taken time away from my own family to prepare lessons, put finishing touches on my classroom, stay later and come earlier for extra incentives or motivate students, and constantly take from my family financially to fund activities and expenses in my classroom. We all do,” said Thompson, who said teachers felt unappreciated when they learned about the potential increase.

“This rate increase will cause some teachers to allocate upwards of 50 percent of their salaries to daycare. I have personally spent higher prices for daycare over the years, but childcare was actually a benefit that brought me to Wilson County.”

Thompson said she took a $9,000 pay cut to come to Wilson County and convinced her husband the move would work because of the savings on childcare services. 

The board passed on the district’s recommendation, as well as board member Wayne McNeese’s motion to use this year’s growth money to cover the about $600,000 shortage for the program for a year.

“We’ve got to do something other than tack it on the back of our teachers. We’ve got to cut expenses. We’ve got to really analyze how to cut the expenses out of there. There’s got to be a way,” McNeese said.

Board attorney Mike Jennings said he could not answer the question of legality in taking BEP growth money and using it for the program as he cited state law.

“No Tennessee foundation program school funds or any required local matching funds shall be used in connection with the operation of these programs,” Jennings said.

He said the issue surrounds the definition of “required.”

Board member Gwynne Queener’s motion to increase rates $30 per week per child also failed due to a lack of a second.

Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said the district could handle the $30 per week increase Queener suggested, but only if Learning Center locations were closed at Carroll Oakland, W.A. Wright, Mt. Juliet and Lakeview elementary schools.

Hall said students at those locations would still be able to access one of the other Learning Center locations, and some of the 14 staff members at those locations would be eligible to work in the district’s Kids Club.

Board member Tom Sottek questioned the possibility of making all Learning Center staff part time, which he estimated would still leave about a $250,000 shortfall for the program.

Anne Barger, supervisor of early childhood and family resources, said she believed the change is not feasible for several reasons.

“Right now, we are already short – in Kids Club especially – trying to find part-time workers. Our starting pay for a part-time worker is $9.50 an hour. If you look around Wilson County, you see help wanted signs. We are competing,” Barger said.

Wilson County‘s unemployment rate of 2.7 percent in March was the fourth lowest in the state behind Williamson, Davidson and Rutherford counties, respectively.

“I think we all agree nobody wants to see this program go away, but like Wayne says, we’ve got to, if there’s one out there, find a solution. We cannot continue to lose the kind of money that we’re losing every year to sustain the program,” said board chairman Larry Tomlinson.

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