Cleveland, Tenn., schools and Bradley County Commission talk money

Cleveland, Tenn., schools and Bradley County Commission talk money

September 29th, 2011 By Paul Leach/Correspondent in News

Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.

Photo by Randall Higgins/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Both city and county school systems have asked Bradley County commissioners how and when they can fund students' growing needs.

In a special Wednesday meeting, the Cleveland City School Board offered its support to the Bradley County Commission for possible fundraising efforts to pay for an estimated $26 million in capital projects for county schools. The city stands to gain $1 out of every $3 that the county raises based on student populations.

While county schools are looking to replace the storm-devastated Blue Springs Elementary and add an eight-classroom pod to the Walker Valley High School campus, the city wants to build a new school in the Hardwick Farms area off North Lee Highway.

"[We] saw it as a great opportunity to pay for the elementary school we need just to continue with the growth we're getting," said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.

The director said the city schools have grown by more than 800 students in the last eight years, with some of the heaviest growth occurring in the last two years. Much of the growth has been concentrated in the Mayfield area. He said a new elementary school based in Hardwick Farms would relieve the pressure on Mayfield Elementary.

Mayfield Elementary, which was designed to accommodate 440 students, has an enrollment of 572 students, according to Ringstaff.

Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel echoed comments made by the city school director that overcrowded schools resulted in lower test scores. Both directors said that many of their elementary schools have had to sacrifice art and music classrooms, using them as regular classrooms out of necessity. They agreed that rezoning won't fix their students' problems either.

"Rezoning schools that are already full doesn't solve problems, it just moves problems," Ringstaff said.

"I don't think we can live without building some more school space in our community," said McDaniel. "I think the time has come when we really need to address this."

The problem is the county doesn't readily have the money, according to the commissioners.

"We're in dire straits," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber. "We have no more borrowing power."

Paul Leach lives in Cleveland. Contact him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.