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Editorial 10/12/13: Rick Wilson

SCAreadersSpeakOutAfter the August 5th School Board meeting, I decided to find out how, BOE member Dan Moore was “fully engaged” after missing 10 meetings in a row, and being out of State.  I did a “Freedom of Information Act” request, and requested to see emails during the time period of May 1st through July 29th.  I suspected that the Board member was violating the “Tennessee Sunshine Law”. In short, it prohibits elected officials to discuss issues in private. All discussions must be in a public forum, as I understand the law.
I uncovered an issue that I found very questionable. Why was an elected Board Member Dan Moore offering the Director of Schools a free trip to Alaska, and offering the Director a place to stay at the Board Members Corporate Bed and Breakfast?
I then wondered, what else was the BOE talking about that the public didn’t know about. I submitted another “FOIA” request, and saw how BOE Chairperson Michele Collins allowed the Director of Schools to set his own benchmarks to meet for his bonus, which was to be placed in his contract. Each Board member was aware of this, as all were emailed together. Not one Board member questioned her actions. There was no public forum / workshop meeting, which openly discussed Dr. Curtis’ contract. It was all done in “Legal Meetings” behind closed doors, away from the public and the media.
Not knowing if they had done anything illegal, on August 30th, I attended a meeting with the State’s Comptrollers office. They seemed very interested in hearing what I had to say, and seeing what I had to present. I was questioned by a panel of 5, and honestly answered all of their questions. I told the panel that I do not know if I have proof of the Board Members doing anything illegal. It may fall under “poor Judgment”, but I wanted to present the information I have, and let the State make that decision. They thanked me, and assured me they would look in to the legal aspects of my presentation.
On September 11th, I filed a formal complaint with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, with the same information. Why? I wanted to get another perspective on my findings. It’s like getting a second opinion like you would from a doctor. The Ethics Commission notified all of the Board Members, and the Director of Schools with a certified letter of the complaint.
On September 17th, after much thought, I decided that since the BOE and DOS knew of the complaint filed, I would let the people of Cheatham County know what I found out about the people we have elected, and trusted to represent our School System, and make the decisions for our Children’s future, and gave my story to the local press. I have done nothing wrong in requesting these emails, as anyone can request the information, as it is public knowledge/open records.
I have heard many times from the BOE and DOS that it is about the children. Is it? Or is it about ego’s? Since January, I have heard Dr. Curtis lobby for a Public Relations / Grant Writer position. Dr. Curtis said in a workshop meeting that he doesn’t look good on camera, and his number one priority was to have a Public Relation / Grant Writers position. His number one priority wasn’t the children, it wasn’t safety, it wasn’t education, it was about what he wanted.
The BOE passed their budget with 2 members saying they were reluctant in passing the budget, because it didn’t address the problems, and they would be in the same position next year. Before the BOE passed their budget, Tara Watson presented the Board with some School System figures. The one that stood out for me was, we have a little more than 6000 students in 12 schools. 3000 students are considered to be “economic challenged”. Dr. Curtis stated in the BOE retreat back in January, that 70 percent of the school systems budget goes towards salaries. So the BOE passed their budget which included two new positions, a Grant Writer / Public Relations person, and an IT Tech.  More salaries, while half of the student body is “economic challenged”.
Which comes to mind, how did the BOE balance their budget? 3 months ago they were asking for 5.3 million dollars to operate the schools. 2 months ago it got cut down to 1.8 million with the teachers insurance plan in the way of balancing their budget. There was talk of possibly having the teachers pay in to their insurance benefit to help balance the budget. In July, the BOE went to the County Commission meeting with a budget proposal of 1.8 million dollars over budget. They claimed they couldn’t operate the schools at the present tax rate, and the teachers would lose their 100% insurance coverage. The Commission sent the BOE back to balance their budget, with no increase.
As I mentioned, on September 9th, the BOE voted in a balanced budget, and on September 16th, the County Commissioners voted and passed the BOE budget. It was announced last that night, the BOE moved 300 thousand dollars out of their fund balance account, to balance their budget. Well, doesn’t that make them 1.5 million dollars over their budget still? Then it was announced that the teachers were able to keep their 100% insurance coverage. Plus, the budget allowed for two new positions. Which was the Grant Writer/Public Relation person and the IT Tech. So, what was cut from the 1.8 million dollar budget proposal back in July to balance the budget? How did moving 300 thousand dollars balance a budget that was 1.8 million dollars over, with 2 new positions, and 100% teachers insurance coverage? This very question was asked by Commissioner Dale McCarver, to Commissioner Donnie Jordan, who is Chairman of the Education Committee. Mr. Jordan said it was not the Commissions business to know how the BOE balanced their budget, but only that the budget was balanced. WHAT! You’ve got to be kidding! I agree, the commission has no business in telling how the BOE is to spend their money, but Oh My Gosh, it’s my tax dollars! The Commission gives them the funds to operate, so it is important to know and the Commissions business to know how the money is spent. I want to know how my/our tax dollars are being spent. Just because next year, they are going to ask for more money again, and if they are not spending it wisely now, no increase should be given next year either.
I have seen many post on Facebook asking for donations to our schools to help buy supplies for our students. I have read many post from our teachers saying how they have to spend their own money on supplies for their students. Remember, 70% of the budget goes towards salaries. The new budget added two more salaries. Half of the student body is considered “economic challenged”, but a tax increase was asked for, and will be asked for again next year. When will it be about the children? When will we put education first? When will we elect people who want to help the County, and not their resume or ego? When will we elect people who will represent and listen to the people who elected them?
I really hope in the upcoming election, you will listen and learn about the candidates. Don’t go by gossip, and hear say. Do your homework.  Beware of the candidate who wants to lead Cheatham County. That’s the one who will not listen to the people. You are the leader, they are the representative.

Rick Wilson
Pleasant View, Tennessee

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