Out-of-county students debated

Greg Wilkerson News Herald

Loudon County School Board members debated the best way to reduce or eliminate the number of out-of-county students attending county schools during a workshop meeting Thursday. "It's not fair for our taxpayers to educate out-of-county students," said board member Bill Marcus.

Currently the school system does not accept new students from neighboring counties unless they have already been attending a school here, or are the sibling of a student in the system.

Board members questioned the need for students who come from families who do not pay property taxes in Loudon County. Various options were presented including a suggestion by board member Van Shaver to completely eliminate all out-of-county students before the start of school in the fall.

Board Member Gary Ubben suggested a more gradual approach, which would allow students to finish at the school they are in, but not move to a new school - for instance a student at Eaton Elementary would not be allowed to travel with his fellow students to North Middle. He also suggested they consider eliminating the exception for siblings.

Ubben said it can be traumatic for a child to be shifted between schools, though Shaver indicated he was more concerned with how Loudon County's money is being spent. "Trauma to a child doesn't weigh nearly as heavy on me as cost to the taxpayers," Shaver said.

He voiced his support to remove all out-of-county students immediately, with a possible exception for students who are the children of teachers.

North Middle School Principal Joey Breedlove told the board it is difficult to remove children from the school where they have been accepted and encouraged to be part of the school "family."

Ubben also expressed concern for students in high school who may not be performing well. He said making them leave the school could encourage some of them to drop out all together.

Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt began the discussion talking about the relationship between the Loudon County School System and Lenoir City Schools. Honeycutt said students who live inside the city limits of Lenoir City are treated exactly the same as out-of-county students, based on the legal opinion of the county's attorney Chuck Cagle.

Marcus said Cagle's opinion was different than what he felt was right because even though the students are within the boundaries of a separate school system, they are still county taxpayers and should have access to county services, like the schools. Other members of the board agreed they should be allowing Lenoir City students before out-of-county students.

Honeycutt said he has been in discussions with Lenoir City Schools Superintendent Wayne Miller to work out the specific details of how to handle students who want to transfer between systems.

Those plans may include a three-week window at the beginning of the school year where students can decide to switch schools. He said Cagle is reviewing the details of both systems so an arrangement can be worked out.

Currently most students in the north part of the county who start out in county schools eventually end up in Lenoir City High School, even if they live outside Lenoir City's limits.

Board member Leroy Tate reminded the board that years ago when the schools first started accepting out-of-county students, it was because there was extra space in the schools, and filling out the classrooms increased the amount of money received from the state. He also said there are many Loudon County residents who attend schools in other counties. He said if the board sends students back to their home counties, all those students may get sent back here, which wouldn't help the space concerns.

Shaver stated we should be educating our own students anyway.

Tate said the issue needs to be resolved, but done so with class and consideration for the students involved.

The issue may be voted on at the next board meeting, scheduled for Thursday.