commentary (2007-47)

Paying Up

Commentary

Farragut should chip in more for county schools

by Matt Edens

Whatever higher office city councilman Rob Frost may aspire to after his current term, Mayor of Farragut certainly isnâ’t one of them.

Week before last, Frost proposed a resolution â“most respectfullyâ” requesting that the incorporated bedroom community increase the amount of local-option sales tax it contributes to the county schools. Currently, Farragut only kicks in the state-mandated 50 percent minimum, compared to 72 percent for the city. Council approved the non-binding measure unanimously, but it didnâ’t get much respect from Farragut residents. Farragut pays more than its fair share of taxes, thank you very much, seemed to be the consensus of the online comments accompanying the News Sentinel article on the proposal. And Farragut Vice Mayor Mike Haynes essentially said as much when quoted in the Sentinel as saying that the town contributes â“a significant portion to the tax base through the appreciation of property values.â”

The implication seems to be that, â“since our homes cost more, we shouldnâ’t have to chip in that extra 20 percent for the schools.â” Maybe so, but Farragutâ’s over-achieving schools are a mighty big reason why those homes cost more. The old mantra of â“location, location, locationâ” often boils down to school zoning. Donâ’t believe me? Just look at the frequent mention of â“Farragut schoolsâ” in the real estate listings. The town of Farragut also trumpets its â“great schoolsâ” on its home page, alongside the fact that it levies no real-estate taxes on its homeowners. The boast that itâ’s largely Farragutâ’s tight-fistedness with its sales taxes that allows the town to forego a municipal property tax doesnâ’t rate a mention, however.

And while discussion of school overcrowding is likewise conspicuously absent from Farragutâ’s website, thatâ’s hardly the case when it comes to justifying the townâ’s stinginess with its sales taxes. Classes held in closets and per-student spending are commonly trotted out as arguments to justify Farragut hanging onto that extra 20 percent of its sales taxes (not that it spends much of that money on its schools, mind you). The phrase â“substandard educational environmentâ” even cropped up in the, at times, onerous online comments accompanying the Sentinel article about Frostâ’s resolution. Funny thing about that is how, early in the debate over a new West Knox high school, some Farragut parents objected to rezoning their kids to Karns on grounds that some of the advanced placement courses available at Farragut werenâ’t offered at Karns. The environment may be â“substandard,â” but the education itself appears to be above par.

Farragutâ’s high prices are also, in a curiously self-reinforcing catch-22, one reason why its schools are stocked with college-bound kids. Across Knox County, indeed the country, thereâ’s generally a strong correlation between a schoolâ’s achievement and the relative affluence of its student body. And property values are the primary reason that such a small percentage of students at Farragutâ’s four schools are deemed â“economically disadvantagedâ” by the state (from 6 to 11 percent depending upon the school). Farragutâ’s schools may be public, but thereâ’s a sort of tuition, or at least an entrance fee, factored into most familiesâ’ mortgage payment.

And that, frankly, puts Frostâ’s own neighborhood of 4th and Gill in a curious place regarding the correspondence between home prices and school zoning. Although zoned for Christenberry, Beaumont, Austin-East, and Fulton, home costs in 4th and Gill are nudging the $120-per-square-foot mark. Excluding homes on the water or fairway, thatâ’s not too far from parity with Farragutâ’s 37922 zip code. And downtown condos can now be as pricey per square foot as many of those with lakefront or links views. Maybe, instead of asking Farragut to pony up its fair share, Frost should have borrowed a page from Farragutâ’s Vice Mayor and pitched zoning 4th and Gillers to Farragut. After all, the neighborhood does â“contribute a significant portion to the tax base through the appreciation of property values.â”

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