• Ed note: We provide everything you need to pass your Murfreesboro 2035 plan final exam but without all the pretty pictures. We have to save money, as our ad revenues are down.

We applaud consolidation of services

When you read the educational section of the city’s planning report for 2035, two things jump out. First, the city is getting a good deal by turning over the last six years of a student’s education to the county.

Wherever you go in America, the cost of educating children amounts to anywhere from 50% to 60% of each property tax dollar people pay to local government. In Rutherford County the figure is 52% — not counting for the cost of servicing the county’s education-related debt.

Murfreesboro’s schools only educate the city’s school kids from pre-K through the sixth grade. Many Boro students transfer to county schools for the sixth grade because there is no expensive athletic option in city schools.

That old annexation debate again

While city residents pay county taxes, too, they get to spread a major portion of their educational costs over a larger tax base. This is never mentioned when city leaders complain that parts of the country should be annexed because the people living there use city parks for free.

I’m all for consolidating facilities to save money. But dare I ask who has been doing the freeloading around here?

A capacity crunch looms

The second issue is a capacity crunch that the city and county school systems face already. And this problem will balloon with an expected doubling of Murfreesboro’s population in the next 20 years. In the past 20 years, student enrollment in city schools has risen by nearly a third. While the growth spurt has slowed in the past five years, it still increased by about 8%.

Of the district’s 12 elementary schools, nine are full right now. Using census data, the city’s planning consultant projects that the city’s school enrollment will grow by an average 475 students for each of the next 20 years. To maintain the current quality level of education, Murfreeesboro will have to build nine more elementary schools and hire another 475 teachers.

Key question: To maintain school quality or dilute it

Alternatively, the district could buy or rent portable classrooms or raise its pupil teacher ratio from 20:1 to 25:1, the state maximum.

The situation is equally daunting for Rutherford County schools that serve the Murfreesboro area. Like the city itself, the immediate surppounding area in the county faces a similar population surge in the next 20 years. An estimated 25% of students within the city will be attending county middle schools and 355 will be going to county high schools within the time period of the study,. Two of seven county elementary schools (including one magnet school) in the area  are full, as are four of five middle schools.  The central magnet high school and two other high schools are  also full.

County faces massive building program

County elementary schools are designed to house between 850 and 1,000 pupils. Middle schools are designed for 1,000 students and high schools for 2,000 to 2,200 youths. The consultant estimates that (in the city and the immediate surrounding area) the county system will need four additional elementary schools over the 20 year time period. It will also have to build another nine middle schools and six high schools to serve the same area.

A plan for the area’s educational future

Here is the strategy the consultant recommends for dealing with these school issues over the next 20 years:

  • The demand that each major residential development will have on school spaces should be an integral part of the approval process. This will help school leaders plan where to put new schools.
  • The city should work with developers to ensure that the latter set aside land for additional schools if they are needed to serve a particular subdivision. Some states go even farther, levying school impact fees on new housing developments.
  • Once again the consultant stresses the importance of infill development (which will guide students to existing school facilities) over more urban sprawl.
  • The city should require that new housing developments provide sidewalks or trails so that students can walk or bike to class.

Turning to Middle Tennessee State University, the consultant proposes a redevelopment program around the university campus to provide higher density housing and a pedestrian-oriented shopping district. Such a district might even include a hotel adjacent to the campus, but the consultant doesn’t elaborate on this idea.

Other ideas for MTSU

  • Add to the  pedestrian walkways on the campus and improve public transit serving the university. Specifcally, the consultant calls for creation of a transit hub on campus (serving the  Rover and Relax and Ride bus services) and a park-and-ride lot.
  • Replace surface parking lots in the center of the campus with parking decks on the perimeter. This would create more attractive open space in the university’s core  and contribute to the “greening” of the campus. The change would also make walking and bike riding around the campus safer by limiing auto use.

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* This wraps up chapter two of the consultant’s 2035 plan for the city. I did not cover police and fire as well as library services as these sections largely desicrbe current activities. And many of the recommendations are to continue approaches already in use.