The Lenoir City School Safety Task Force met Thursday afternoon to discuss, in part, ways to encourage the public to support a sales tax increase that will generate nearly $2 million annually for school safety initiatives.
Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, opened the meeting by discussing a memorandum of understanding recently approved by Lenoir City Council that details how the money brought in would be used.
“Hopefully, that will put some of the critics, ease some of their thoughts or concerns that somehow or another the city is going to take all this big pile of money and use it for whatever,” Aikens said. “We felt like we would bring the task force back together and get your all’s thoughts. I know Dr. (Jeanne) Barker (director of schools) has come up with some ideas on how to get the word out to help parents ... come out and support the sales tax referendum.”
Barker called the referendum, which would raise the local sales tax rate by a half cent, a “win-win for the community.”
“We came up with a good list, I think, of some prioritized items that we would like to see happen,” Barker said. “So we’ve been working hard since the last meeting to give it legs to make those kinds of things happen. The only thing standing in the way, of course, as always, is funding.”
Barker did not provide a list of items during the task force meeting. A list previously provided the News-Herald detailed $1.4-$1.6 million in expenses, but only $845,000 in annual recurring costs.
“We don’t really know if it’s going to pass yet or not, so that’s always been a concern to come up with this huge list of things that we want to do not knowing,” Barker said. “People might expect that those things be done and then it not pass. Then where are we?”
Aikens expressed a need to educate the general public about the referendum because of criticism received.
“We all knew there would be out of a select few,” Aikens said. “So it’s our job to educate the public and let them know what we’re going to do and why.”
Lenoir City Schools created a flier that provides some information about the proposed tax increase.
“It tries to answer some of the critical questions that we’re hearing from the community so they can have information as they go to the polls and they decide what is important to them,” Barker said. “So we’re putting that out. We’ve given it out at some of the football games. We’ll probably be sharing that directly to voters as well. ... Some of our students and parents, I think, will be helping us do that.”
Barker has asked residents to pass out the fliers in city neighborhoods.
“I think there’s a lot of good things we can do if it passes,” Barker said. “We’re still going to do our very best if it doesn’t. With it passing, it gives us the ability to do some of these things we’ve talked about, these creative things and state-of-the-art type of things to keep our kids safe.”
Much of the conversation Thursday focused on ideas previously discussed, including building a fence around the school, which is included in the original $1.4-$1.6 million in expenses provided by Barker.
Aikens brought up looking into new video security, which Barker previously provided a cost estimate for, in addition to upgrading doors to electronic security entry.
Craig Price, a teacher at Lenoir City High School, raised the question of using some of the funding to provide special education students who need extra support with transportation and enrollment for a specialized program, something Price said was previously done but cut due to funding.
“We used to send kids to Kingston Academy and they would come and pick them up in the morning and bring them back in the afternoon,” Price said. “... We’re not able to do that anymore and the No. 1 reason we’re not able to do that is because of money.”
Barker believes that need could be met in other ways and agreed to look into the possibility.
The referendum will be up for vote Nov. 6. Early voting is Oct. 17-Nov. 1.