Educational Exploratory Committee researching ways to improve schools

By Bill Short

Oakland Mayor Scott Ferguson has appointed an Educational Exploratory Committee to research ways to ensure that the town leads in improving education for its children.

In a decree issued earlier this year, Ferguson noted that Oakland spends more than $1 million annually on public schools in Fayette County. He said the leadership decisions that have been determining the future of the town’s children should be examined to “fully understand” where the school system has historically performed in comparison to Oakland’s peer communities in the state.

“It is my goal to provide the leadership support for an analysis of our options as a community,” he wrote, “especially, in light of all the changes to education laws in Tennessee. While we cannot act in a hasty manner, neither can Oakland be left behind because of our failure to explore our options.”

In addition to establishing the committee, Ferguson’s decree charged it with:

(1) determining whether Oakland can legally create its own school system that would be entirely separate from the Fayette County School System;

(2) determining the costs of creating and operating an Oakland municipal school system;

(3) determining whether the law permits two or more cities to jointly form a school system;

(4) providing a report to Ferguson within 90 days; and

(5) organizing its findings so the data can be presented to Oakland residents for their consideration.

Calling education “vital” to the success of any community, Ferguson has said he appointed the committee to find ways to place it as the town’s “highest priority.” In his State of the Town Address earlier this year, he said he is “greatly disappointed” with the condition of the county school system.

“We have great teachers, dedicated principals and hard-working employees,” he acknowledged. “But it is inexcusable to realize a potential $1.3 million deficit under the watch of our school leaders.”

The mayor noted that the Tennessee General Assembly has passed “historic legislation” to allow certain municipalities in the state to establish their own school districts. He said the law is designed to ensure a “bright future” for the children and also to give them a “strong foundation” to stand on to face the “challenges of life.”

Ferguson acknowledged that there are “many challenges” to overcome, and that Oakland’s residents will ultimately make that decision.

“But we cannot miss the opportunity to explore our options to focus on the educational welfare of our children,” he concluded. “Not only should we explore our options for them, we owe it to them.”