In the land of country music, Nashville residents consistently get noticed for something totally different-their schools. If you delved into the history books, you would find that Nashville was the first southern city to establish a public-school system. Almost 150 years later, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is staying ahead of the game by rallying community support, involving parents and working to make sure its facilities are up-to-date.
One of the biggest impacts on the district, as well as its facilities, came in September 1998, when Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools was declared unitary.
"[Prior to being declared unitary] we were limited in what we could do-we had to get court approval," says Craig Owensby, director of communications. "The court order changed the zoning patterns. As the population changed, it changed the way we built schools."
This affected facilities because due to a shift in population, some zones needed to be bigger, and some areas with no school facilities needed buildings. In addition, the district wanted to change the grade structure; they had been grouping students by grades K-4, 5-6, 7-8 and 9-12.
"The feeling was that in a two-year school, the schools don't become neighborhood schools, and there's not as much parental involvement. Now we will have K-4, 5-8 and 9-12," says Owensby. "That's a big component of our building program-to create a lot of 5-8 centers. It offers a whole new component in zones where we didn't currently have anything."
Finding funds Of course, no district can build new facilities without funding. In this district, 36.5 percent of funds come from state sales tax, and 63.5 percent from local property and sales taxes. The district has no taxing authority; the school budget is dependent on Metro Council for funding. But, the district has been fortunate.
"We have $260 million of construction and another $14 million consisting of a multitude of deferred maintenance projects," says Joe Edgens, director of operations.
"We've been fortunate the past couple of years," says Owensby. "We currently have a three-year building program. This year we have a $206 million program added to that. All of these funds relate to new construction."
However, need does not necessarily dictate that the district will get the operating money it requests every year.
"We have 180 acres of roofs. Roofs last 15-20 years, and if you replaced them that often, that would cost $1.5 million per year," says Owensby. "We'll get $1 million for roofing one year, then 4 or 5 years later we'll get another million. Sometimes we're forced to patch things together."
Patching things together includes developing strategies to keep costs down.
"In this part of the country, large construction projects tend to run 20 to 25 percent over budget," says Edgens. "We just finished a $110 million program that was less than five percent over budget."
In an area where the community is supportive, this also involves working with a citizens' advisory council, which rallies for support when a new building or renovation project is needed.
Prepared for the future The district is expanding current instructional technology programs and adding new ones to provide students with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace today and in the future.
It has more than 470 high-tech 21st-century classrooms, which use computers to provide hands-on learning opportunities and reinforce classroom instruction. These classrooms were created with state and local funds. In addition, each school library is connected to the Internet, funded through the Tennessee Department of Education connecTEN project.
One example of this is Antioch High School, which was completed in July 1997 by Earl Swensson Associates. Efficiency in design is a central feature in the facility's technological systems, such as placement of computer hook-ups backing up to one another in individual classrooms. The design allows for additional technology to be added as funds are available, such as providing ample cable trays in corridors.