Fore Note: The story below is in reference to three or four individuals who have recently begin attending school board and commission meetings to object to the plans for the new Greenback school. Many of the facts stated by those who oppose the new school have been disputed and refuted.

Loudon debates future of Greenback School

Too few students to justify building project, critic says

By Hugh G. Willett
Renewed debate over the future of Greenback School could add even more delays to a long-awaited school building program in Loudon County.

Questions have been raised about whether or not the county can afford to build a high school that serves about 200 Greenback students.

Also at issue is whether such a small school can provide full access to educational opportunities.

"It is not too late to do the right thing," said Wayne Schnell, a Loudon County resident who has been urging County Commission to rethink the building program.

With just one wing of the proposed $23 million pre-K to 12 building devoted to the high school, it's impossible to offer the breadth of courses a larger regional high school might offer, especially in Advanced Placement courses, Schnell said.

"They're doing the students a disservice," he said.

Greenback parent LuAnne Smith disagrees. She said her son has been taking advanced math classes and has scored very high on standardized tests.

"I think he's getting a great education," she said.

According to Greenback Principal Joey Breedlove, math students at the school scored among the highest in the state for the past two years.

Schnell also questions whether state law prohibits building such a school.

He points to TCA 49-6-403, which states: "No senior high school shall be established and maintained with fewer than three hundred (300) pupils in average daily attendance."

"I think they were smart enough to know that if you have such a small school you can't offer the students the same opportunities," Schnell said.

Jason Vance, incoming schools director for Loudon County, said he believes the law does not apply to Greenback because the high school is not in a standalone building. The law cannot be used to abolish an existing school.

A string of high-profile safety issues has given Greenback the highest priority in the building program.

According to Schnell, everything that was cited as structurally deficient in 2007 has been repaired. Greenback has had more repairs and renovations than any school in the county, he said.

"It is not in the dire straits you have been led to believe it is in," Schnell said.

Demolishing parts of the Greenback school that were built as late as 1989 and 2002 was a "ridiculous and wasteful concept," Schnell said.

All of the issues raised by Schnell and others have already been addressed by the board and County Commission during the last four years of debate, according to Lisa Russell, Greenback school board representative. "These are not revelations," she said.

A 2007 study by the Knoxville Public Building Authority determined that Greenback was the only school in the county that needed to be replaced and that renovation would not be cost-effective, said Russell.

County Commission has also been wrestling with options to fund the $40 million first phase of the program. At a recent workshop, commissioner Don Miller suggested that 30-year loans to fund the program might be overextending the county's ability to repay the debt. All of the options for funding the program require property tax increases, he said.