Home City Staff BOC tonight:  May 28, 2019 – Historic night for Lakeland, School System

BOC tonight:  May 28, 2019 – Historic night for Lakeland, School System

Lakeland is getting its first high school.

In a unanimous vote, the BOC (Board of Commissioners) tonight (5.28.19) approved an amended resolution to borrow $62 million in USDA loan funds. The loan amount will not only build a $40 million high school, but refinance the CON (Capital Outlay Note) loan on the two-year-old middle school and provide for other public works projects.

The property tax burden to citizens will be zero for at least four years and likely only a six-cent tax increase starting in the fifth year of the 40-year loan. The Lakeland School Board (LSB) offered in April to contribute $700,000 of its fund balance for four years ($2.8 million total) toward debt service if a high school for Lakeland is funded by the City and built now, rather than later.  That money, according to Mayor Mike Cunningham, would offset the need for a tax increase in the first years of the loan.

The decision was met with cheers, applause and standing in unison for the choice made for the City. The Mayor said, “I hope everyone here tonight sees a change in the City.  We’ve done something short of a miracle that I didn’t believe was ever possible. We found the center of the road.  It’s a win for everybody in the City.”  He added that during the four years the new debt is covered by the LSS money, he will “work my rump off to grow this City.”

He asked those in the audience who agreed with the USDA loan decision to stand.  The audience stood and clapped. The Mayor said he thought it was important for the BOC to see the show of support.

Amended USDA resolution:


From Dr. Ted Horrell, Lakeland School System superintendent

“I am very encouraged by and grateful for the unanimous support of our mayor and board of commissioners for the LSS school board’s vision of construction of a high school facility in Lakeland. Once funds are secured and transferred to Lakeland School System, we will work with our design team to determine the appropriate timeline for the opening of the new school.”

Link to agenda: https://tn-lakeland.civicplus.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/847

Link to Livestream: https://livestream.com/lakeland/events/8698192

Link to Google album of resident speakers: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZV1KmGeBHNXfihFY7

Purpose of meeting

There were three items on the agenda:   A public hearing and final reading on an ordinance adopting the annual budget and tax rate for Fiscal Year 2019-20; and two resolutions for funding mechanisms for a high school — the USDA and a 12-year CON for $35 million which would have raised taxes 64-cents.

Audience at tonight’s BOC meeting

The USDA ordinance was passed unanimously. The resolution for the CON was approved in a 4-1 vote with the Mayor voting no.  The CON was passed by parallel vote on the chance the USDA funding device is challenged by Lakeland residents.  Commissioner Richard Gonzales Jr. said he thinks commissioners have found the middle.  “I’ll support this.  I want the conflict to end. I’m glad we’re protecting the seniors.”  He added there is a time when you can fall on your sword.

During the special called meeting at City Hall, commissioners watched as Mayor Cunningham make a presentation for the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Loan Funds to build a high school for the City of Lakeland in the amount of $35,000.

The LSS includes Lakeland Elementary School for grades K-4 and Lakeland Middle Preparatory School for grades 5-8.  Building a high school in Lakeland means LSS would have a complete K-12 system.  High school students in Lakeland now attend Arlington High School through an interlocal agreement between the two cities.

Vice Mayor Josh Roman made a motion to amend the USDA resolution to $62 million to include $40 million for the high school as well refinancing $16 million on the middle school debt and including funds for road work, parks and New Canada Road (NCR).  After a short recess, the amount of the resolution was changed as was the language from “general obligation bonds” to “general obligation loan.”

Commissioners at tonight’s meeting

What’s next?

The Mayor said there is a window of 20 days from today for citizens to gather 1,000 signatures to petition for a referendum on the funding mechanism. He said, however, the two funding choices are a fork in the road.  Take the USDA funding and the property tax is minimal and four years away.  If there is a protest against the USDA loan, a 64-cent tax increase is still in play, he said.  A special meeting would be called to vote to go forward with the $35 million CON loan.

The Mayor said his biggest take-away from his supporters during the fall 2018 campaign was that a school now would be a burden on taxpayers.  He said he understood his supporters wanted someone in the Mayor’s chair they could trust.  “If you think that can be done, then do it,” the Mayor said his supporters conveyed to him.

“This is the obvious right choice and will heal the divide,” he said. “There will be no more neighbors against neighbors.”

Historical perspective on a high school in Lakeland

In 2014 there was a plan to build a middle and high school campus at the current Lakeland Middle Preparatory School. Funding for the combined schools was voted down in a 2015 bond referendum. The middle school was subsequently financed through a Capital Outlay Note (CON) and opened in August 2017.

A lawsuit, filed Dec. 8, 2017, sought to block tax-free lease revenue bonds approved by the Lakeland Board of Commissioners (BOC) and its Industrial Development Board (IDB) and force a referendum on any bond issue. The suit also alleged violation(s) of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

The suit was dismissed in Shelby County Chancery Court May 25, 2018 on mootness of the case. The plaintiffs took their case to the Court of Appeals in Jackson, TN where a decision is pending.

In the years since a high school was first proposed, there have been countless BOC meetings with resident pitted against resident, fighting for or against a complete school system in Lakeland.

During the meeting

Thirteen citizens spoke to BOC members in favor of building a high school now, including three who read the names of 126 Lakeland residents who want a school now.  Five residents spoke for either a City-wide vote on building a school or against the CON funding mechanism.

The Mayor asked City Manager Shane Horn how the USDA loan would impact City services versus utilizing a CON loan.  Mr. Horn said this would free up the cash flow issues.  He mentioned needing restrooms at IH Park and road work.  He also said the NCR project  is important to residents.

The Mayor replied by saying a big concern in building a high school without funding NCR is a safety issue.  Unlike middle school students, high school students drive and they will be driving on Canada Road. “It makes sense to me to provide safety to our kids.”

… Video, photos by Jim Willis, Lakeland Currents