Spending in Watertown and South East Wilson County

$37,000,000 for 412 Students.

While the average investment per pupil by Wilson County when it constructed Mt. Juliet High School, Lebanon High School, and Wilson Central High School was in the $22,000 to $26,000 range, its per pupil investment into the Watertown High School has been in the $90,000 range.

Wilson County’s Board of Education recently approved the construction of a Wrestling Center at Watertown High School.  There are 13 wrestlers in their program.  They invested $841,000 into the project.  That roughly translates to $65,000 per wrestler in their program.

Watertown accounted for 1% of the County’s Growth between 2000 and 2013.  It is highly unlikely that the unincorporated areas of South East Wilson County grew any faster.

When you read the accounts of things supposedly stated by certain school officials, they seem to believe that the answer to overcrowding in schools in Mt. Juliet and the surrounding area is to build schools in the eastern part of the county.  They also mention the concept of building schools in the eastern part of the county in a effort to lure growth in that direction, away from Mt. Juliet.

It has been stated that, in order to fill the Watertown High School, the county is now going to engage in redistricting the school districts.  This is going to necessarily translate to students that could have gone to Wilson Central or Lebanon High School, are now going to be making the trip out to Watertown in order to go to school.

Wilson County is ranked number 1 in the state when it comes to investment into new school construction.  However, we aren’t number 1 by just a small margin.  In fact, out of every seven dollars spent statewide on new school construction in recent years, Wilson County has spent one dollar.  One dollar invested here, for every six invested throughout the other 94 counties, combined.

While Wilson County has been growing at a much higher rate than the rest of the state, (37% vs 12%), our growth does not substantiate this incredible amount of investment into new schools.  That having been said, we are soon going to be spending perhaps another $200,000,000 to $300,000,000 on new schools.  All of this construction is going to be debt spending.  We do not have the cash available to build these schools with current funds.

The question must then be asked and answered:  “Why are our schools so expensive to build?”

Let’s use round numbers.

Let’s say that this county invested $200,000,000 in new schools.  (This number is actually low)

There are 17, 117 students in our school system right now.

This translates roughly to $12,000 per student.

If we spent $200,000,000, and one out of seven dollars invested statewide was invested here, then the State must have invested $1.4 billion on new schools.

There are roughly 1.1 million students in this state.  Of that number, not all attend public schools.  When you add everything in and take everything out you get to a per pupil spending statewide of roughly $1,200.

Why are we spending approximately 10 times as much per pupil in Wilson County than is being spent statewide when it comes to new school construction?  Yes, we grew at a rate that was approximately 3 times that of the state.  But how does that translate to us spending 10 times as much per pupil on new school construction.

Now, take that to Watertown.  Why are we spending about 75 times as much per pupil to build a school there?

The common argument I hear when I bring this up is, ,”Are you saying that our children aren’t worthy of having the same quality of school that the rest of the students in this county have?”

No, I am not saying that their children aren’t “Worthy of having the same quality of school that the rest of the students in this county have”, I am saying that they aren’t entitled to such lavish spending using my money.

We cannot afford to spend upwards of 3 to 4 times as much per pupil for those who live in the South Eastern portion of this county as we spend on the rest of the students.  Heck, we can’t afford the level of spending we have in the rest of the County, we certainly can’t afford 3 to 4 times as much for those who live in the south east.

Mt. Juliet was responsible for 43% of the growth in this county from 2000 to 2013.  We grew roughly 43 times faster than Watertown.  The growth in West Wilson was likely 43 times as fast as it was in South East Wilson.  In fact, no other area in this county, including Lebanon, grew anywhere remotely close to the growth that occurred in Mt. Juliet.  Regardless, this county has been on a spending spree in East Wilson County, and especially in South East Wilson County.

Now, because they invested so heavily in East Wilson County, and largely neglected the need for substantial growth in West Wilson County, they are having to play catch up here as our schools in this area are bursting at the seams.  However, when I read what the paper quotes regarding things that were said by certain public officials, instead of addressing the real and present school overcrowding and growth that is taking place here, which will only add significant pressure, it seems they plan to build yet more schools in the east and the north of the county.  They could build three brand new, state of the art school campuses here in the heart of Mt. Juliet and they still would not address the current and immediate need for schools.
Mt. Juliet is an absolute boom town.  If consumer confidence kicks back in, and the economy really recovers, Katy bar the door!  This place will be hitting the national news.  We have Belair@beckwith coming in, we have Providence central or providence west, whatever it is called, coming in, and we will have even more coming on the heels of those two projects just as soon as the city constructs the golden bear gateway eastern connector road.  Over the next 5 to 10 years, we will add no less than 10,000 students just inside of Mt. Juliet.  There is “NO WAY” that building new schools out on the other side of 109 or in the northern portions of this county will adequately and appropriately address the need for schools here in Mt. Juliet and the surrounding area.  If things go like they could go, we will have as many new students arriving in West Wilson County over the next 10 to 15 years as this county currently has enrolled in all of the county today.  That’s new students.  In other words, it is possible that West Wilson County may contain as much as 75% of the student body in Wilson County within 10 to 15 years.

One has to wonder why someone would think that the appropriate way to address student population growth in West Wilson County is to build schools in East Wilson County.  They aren’t growing at anywhere near the rate that the growth is occurring here in the Greater Mt. Juliet Area.  By comparison, South East Wilson County is at a near standstill when compared to the Greater Mt. Juliet Area.

This brings us to debt.  This county has amassed no less than $195,000,000 in School Debt, however, I think that number recently was increased by a substantial amount.  In order to address the need for school construction, this county will no doubt have to incur somewhere between $200,000,000 and $300,000,000 in additional debt, however, it could go as high as $300,000,000 to $500,000,000.  We literally could be looking at doubling the school population within 15 to 20 years.  Even the board of education seems to believe that we will need to double the amount of space in schools within 24 years, and they have asserted that the population growth projects are way off from our current reality.

This debt can’t be kicked down the road unless and until this county becomes an AA+ rated county.  It isn’t a good idea to kick the can down the road anyway, however, there are those in this county who are working hard at the task of increasing our credit rating so that we can do just that.

What we are witnessing is a financial tight-wire act in this county.  This county is so banking on growth that, if it ever stops, we are in big trouble.  However, it growth is composed of the wrong kind of growth (Growth that puts children in schools instead of businesses and residential communities that don’t add to the schools, like Del Webb), this county is in big trouble.
Instead of investing the money that is generated here, mostly from business and commercial growth, back into this community in a way that generates growth in industry, this county seems hell bent on trying to create a bedroom community to the east of Mt. Juliet.  How insane is that?  Why would they do that?  Votes.  The only thing that I can think of is that they want to keep the voting power on the County Commission east of 109.  What other logical explanation could there be?

Neighborhoods are expensive propositions.  Each child added to this county is going to create between $10,000 and $12,000 in annual spending for the county.  That’s hard to make back up unless you have a very healthy level of commerce going on in the county.  The county would do well to stop trying to artificially engineer growth in South East Wilson County, where it will not naturally occur for another 30 to 50 years on any appreciable level, and stop trying to create a bedroom community to the east of 109 and to the east of Mt. Juliet, and instead it needs to start partnering with Mt. Juliet for commercial growth.  It should be doing everything in its power to draw in major corporations and foster massive industrial and commercial growth in this county.

They need to build a road that goes from Beckwith Road to where Couchville Pike intersects 840.  They need to invest to straighten out and widen Central Pike and Stewart’s Ferry from the far western part of the county to 840.  They need to assist us with the Central Pike Interchange and assist us in expanding the widening South Mt. Juliet Road to the county line.  They need to widen Lebanon Road from the Kangaroo station in Mt. Juliet to 109.  They need to help widen Division and Old Lebanon Dirt Roads.  All of that road investment will open corridors for commercial growth in Wilson County.

This county needs to recognize and accept that Mt. Juliet is quickly becoming the major contributor of tax dollars in this county and will continue to do and be so for the rest of our lives.  Mt. Juliet can be the next Cool Springs of Middle Tennessee, but we have to get this county to stop thinking so much about growing schools long enough to grow commerce.

Final Thoughts on what this county has done for Watertown.

If this county were to spend as much money per student going forward as it spent per student in Watertown, we would have to spend somewhere between a billion and a billion and a half on new schools in the coming years.  If we were to spend as much per student on extra-curricular activities as what we did for Watertown’s Wrestling Team, we would have to spend upwards of $1.1 Billion just on extra curricular activities.  This translates to about $26,000 per household for extra curricular activities and another $24,000 to $40,000 on buildings.  I am not so sure that $50,000 to $70,000 per household debt in this county is the best thing we can do.

This spending there is so absurd this county should be investigated.

Standby and watch to see if we don’t end up paying for a brand new sewer and water system for Watertown now that we built this school there and now that we are going to be redistricting.  Folks, we are artificially engineering growth in South East Wilson County.  There is no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  This is being done under the auspices that the people who live in that part of the county always have to do without and they always get the leftovers and hand-me-downs and they are always lowest on the totem pole and that this is just some fairness coming their way.  From my vantage point, I see people who choose to live in a rural setting, and in so choosing they automatically choose to accept that rural areas are not urban areas and they don’t have the amenities and services that are typically found in urban areas.  This county seems determined that the people who live in the rural areas have the same of everything on a square mile basis that exists elsewhere in this county.

This county’s focus is so far off of center it is tough to imagine.  They have a choice.  They can invest all available dollars into a growth area that is responsible for as much as 60% to 65% of all growth in this county (The Greater Mt. Juliet Area) or they can suboptimize those dollars by investing in an area that is responsible for perhaps 5% to 7% of the total growth of the county.  If growth were stocks, which would you invest in?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Spending in Watertown and South East Wilson County

  1. (post as Outside Observer)

    I have witnessed the massive growth here and have a child at Mt. Juliet High School, where her nationally recognized Color Guard has fundraisers and high participation fees to cover the costs. I’m sure they’d welcome having 65k per student spent on them.

    Why Watertown needed a new high school to replace one that was half empty is beyond me. And many schools in Metro Nashville are older, including their premier magnet high schools. It’s Hillbilly Mafia politics in general and the county attorney in particular is my guess.

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