COLUMBIA, Tenn. – In a dramatic step Thursday night, the Maury County School Board tossed its budget request back to the Maury County Commission and in the words of the director of schools, Eddie Hickman, it means that schools in Maury County “would be closed until further notice.”
The 10 member school board voted unanimously not to accept the nearly $75.7 million allotted by the Maury County Commission to run the county schools.
They want the commission to approve its $76.5 million request, $800,000 more, but the commission has already voted against it.
“There will be no school in Maury County until further notice,” Hickman said.
After the meeting, commission Chair Scott Cepicky, who voted against the school request on Tuesday, said “I will meet with the county mayor, probably [Friday] and we'll discuss what we are going to do.”
Cepicky added that he does not want to see the county schools closed and that he wants every classroom to be well-funded.
The County Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting Monday at 9 a.m., where it will likely take up the budget issue again as Maury County students won't return from fall break as they were scheduled.
The drastic action of closing Maury County schools until further notice comes after several weeks of gridlock between the commission, which funds schools, and the school board, which decides what's in its budget.
“We cannot continue to be the stepchild in this county,” Hickman said before the board.
He was among several speakers who supported the school board's action.
“Please stay the course and fight for our students,” said Spring Hill Elementary Principal Sharron Cantrell, who drew applause from a room full of mostly teachers at the school board building.
“Because of previous budget cuts, I have lost three educational assistants who help busy teachers,” she continued.
While most of the room was supportive of the school board's actions, County Commissioner Debbie Turner said she was “there as a taxpayer.”
“We have funded 99% of their request,” Turner said in an impromptu debate with the school director's wife, Sheila Hickman.
Hickman responded she “needs to get her facts straight.”
Both women then launched into a heated discussion about one of the reasons some commissioners have voted against giving schools more money is classroom test scores.
“And before you fall off into this test score crevasse, you need to get somebody to explain how that works,” said Hickman.
“Well all you have to do is look on the Tennessee education Web site and you can clearly see the scores, they are pathetic,” Commissioner Turner said.
Earlier, Hickman's husband defended the Maury County scores as above average in many categories that commissioner seemed to be unaware of while acknowledging that some were below state averages.
He also said that even though schools will close until the budget issue is resolved, extra curricular activities, including athletics, will continue as scheduled.