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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for June 2, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Raises for County Employees (CDH)

Maury County Budget Committee members had their work cut out for them during their May round of meetings with a 6% raise for county employees and a 7% bump for Maury County Public Schools staff on the line, while a room filled with Maury County teachers, administrators and officials looked on in anticipation at the budget committee meeting.

Committee members barely bumped county wages by a vote of 4-3, with commissioners Tommy Wolaver, Pam Huffman and Chairwoman, Kathey Grodi dissenting.

Even with this raise, the pay study conducted by the county last fiscal year, puts MCPS in the bottom 25% among 14 other districts.

Ventura shared her concern that MCPS teachers cannot afford to live in their own county, but expressed excitement about the 7% raise that would take starting annual teacher pay from just $42,000 to $45,000.

“We’re not fully to market value yet, but definitely closer to target,” Ventura said, sharing Gov. Bill Lee’s goal to have starting teacher pay at $50,000 before the end of his term.

The pay raise for school and county employees would go into effect on June 3.

Alongside the increase, the committee approved the MCPS $144.3 million operational budget, 5-1-1, with Commissioner Tommy Wolaver dissenting and Gwynne Evans abstaining because he is a teacher with MCPS.

The full Maury County Commission will hear the school district's operational budget proposal.

The school district is moving toward a $21 million jump from last year’s budget request, a percentage increase of 16.64%, according to the school district's tally of $144, 365,768 for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

Last year’s projected budget, north of $123 million left the district with a $7 million surplus due to capital projects put on hold due to certain delays in construction materials and labor, for example.

Commissioners Gabe Howard, Ray Jeter and Danny Grooms (sitting in for Chad Brothers), who supported the raise for county employees, stressed the need to keep Maury County salaries competitive.

“In order to keep good people, we’ve got to stay competitive with other counties,” Grooms said. “Our people are our greatest asset. You can build all the million-dollar buildings you want, but if you don’t have anybody to work in them, all you have is a building.”

Grooms prefaced his comments mentioning teacher vacancies in the county school system and resignations by employees, leaving for higher pay.

Maury County Commission Chairman Eric Previti said after the meeting Tuesday he was “pleased the school board worked hard and presented us with a balanced budget and that they passed raises for the county and school employees.”

A large portion of the budget committee meeting also included an informational component in which commissioners asked finance staff many questions regarding the budgeting process, which led to moments of frustration during the meeting. However, Previti said the newly elected commissioners were "soaking it up like a sponge."

Ventura indicated that her latest count for needed teachers is around 59 with the new Battle Creek High School, but stressed that it's a moving target, a number that changes daily.

“Will all those positions be realized?” Ventura said. “They’re budgeted.”

Maury County has a 2% growth rate that is only set to increase as thousands of new homes are built in Maury County, especially the northern part of the county, which will bring new families and children.

New positions being sought in the district include an assistant principal for Battle Creek Middle School in Spring Hill and the start of staffing for the new Battle Creek High School, set to open in fall 2024.

County Finance Director Doug Lukonen said the new positions are largely the bulk of the roughly $17.5 million increase in the budget's fund balance from last year.

Revenue side, Lukonen expressed optimism about the overall financial picture.

“We’re still surpassing our projected numbers on sales tax, which is a good indicator of business,” Lukonen said. Business tax numbers have suffered, Lukonen said, due to a different timetable for due dates on business tax revenues.

“But you’ll see the bulk of that show up in the last quarter of the year,” Lukonen said.

Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, who was present at the budget committee meeting, has publicly stated that the school district will receive $17 million additional funds, following the recent restructuring of the state's funding formula for school districts, or the new Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA).

Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt weighed in at the end of the night referencing her previous campaign theme of "Team Maury," which addressed effective communication between governmental bodies for the betterment of the county.

“When I look at the teachers, principals here, we need you all to be on the team,” Butt said. “If there are problems, come to us, don’t wait until this time to say what you need.

“We want to help you and see our kids succeed … everything you’re doing is about the kids. Don’t look at us like combatants. We’re with you and the kids, and anything we can do to make that happen we want to do. We are going to expect some higher levels in our children’s learning."


Columbia Horse Show (Press Release)

The Columbia Spring Jubilee Horse Show opened last night at Maury County Park. This is the 72ndedition of the “Jubilee” horse show sponsored by the Maury County Horseman’s Association.

The show will have opening ceremonies at 6pm tonight and Saturday night

The show features classes for pleasure riders, junior riders, amateur riders as well as professional riders. The Friday night competition will feature the Andy Adkins Memorial class for junior exhibitors. The Saturday night show culminates with the crowning of the Rider’s Cup Walking Horse Championship Stake.

Horse show organist Brian Peery of Hampshire will provide the show music, and Bobby Sands will be the show ring announcer. The top tier of exhibitors and horses come to Columbia. Many champions at the Celebration consider Columbia a major stepping stone because of the show’s importance over the years in showcasing champions of the breed.

The show managers for this year’s Jubilee are David Sisk and Callaway Dial of Columbia.


School Funding Halted (CDH)

The Maury County Budget Committee, in their May meeting, voted 7-0, not to consider a $50 million request to construct a new elementary school in Spring Hill.

Some commissioners expressed their concern over the high-dollar funding and a decrease in growth numbers in MCPS overall.

According to Eric Perryman, assistant superintendent of operations, a new elementary school is needed in north Columbia to accommodate growth for a slew of new developments under construction, where Columbia meets Spring Hill.

MCPS Superintendent Lisa Ventura emphasized the district's need to fund its capital projects requests, including the elementary school, new buses and athletic projects.

"We have worked on these requests for multiple years. These requests don't come to you willy-nilly. These requests don't come on a whim," Ventura said. "We have had a five-year plan in Maury County for multiple years."

The fastest-growing elementary school is Battle Creek Elementary, which will need to be rezoned fairly soon, Perryman said.

"We looked at population patterns to determine the need for a school in the area of Spring Hill. We monitor [a growth] map from year to year, a heat map that shows how many children are in each household," Perryman said.

The number of developments is growing along Nashville Highway in northern Columbia and Spring Hill, including 700-unit plus developments like Carter's Station, the Drumright property, new developments along Greens Mill Road and new apartment complexes.

Although some of the developments are still under construction, Perryman emphasized that in two to three years, families with children will be living there.

Commissioner Gabe Howard said he is concerned about a decrease in the MCPS student population as a whole, in contrast with the growth in Spring Hill. A current district growth report shows a reduction of students, or almost a 1 to 2% decrease in growth, over the past few years.

"The most alarming thing is our schools are barely growing at all. ... The district retracted by .65% in student population last year."

For example, Whitthorne Middle School had 1,400 seats and is now down to 1,000 seats, or a 25% reduction.

"That's a massive reduction in a school site," Howard said.

Commissioner Ray Jeter pointed out that the student populations at private schools are growing across the county, as well as homeschool. Columbia Academy had 24% growth over three years, for example.

"It is my recommendation to not approve the $50 million today because I don't think you are ready for it," Howard said.

Howard made a motion not to consider the $50 million capital request for an elementary school in Spring Hill, and the other committee members agreed unanimously.

Howard also said he prefers to have a maximum price cited for the school, instead of fluctuating funding like the judicial center under construction that has reached $30 million.

"We do not have a guaranteed maximum price in the Judicial Center. I want to move away from that," Howard said.

On June 6, the school board will consider a $4 million resolution to purchase more than 25 acres in northern Columbia to build the new elementary school. If the funding is approved, architecture plans and construction bidding for the property could take place as early as next March with a target opening date of August 2025.

Perryman said the new elementary school in Spring Hill, when designed, will serve as a model, or template for all elementary schools in the county with a capacity of 900, allowing for more seats than elementary schools in the past.

"If we open a school, and it's full in the next five years, that's a failure," Perryman said.

He also explained that new school buildings need to be built with a larger capacity.

"We went through a not-fun task of closing an elementary school [McDowell Elementary, one of the oldest school buildings] in Columbia," Perryman said. "Schools are built for a 50 to 60-year lifecycle. Baker Elementary School is aging, 63 years. Brown is 57 years old. They look nice and feel nice and smell nice, but they are underneath the surface are not in the best of shape."

Baker also has a two-inch water line that serves the whole building.

"We look at how much longer can that school age? When do those buildings age out? Is it fair for children and adults to work in those buildings. We have lots of little schools that hold 300 kids. They have the same administrative staff than in the schools that hold 900."

The population of MCPS is 12,296 students as of May 18.

"I understand these decisions are hard. I hope that our spirit of collaboration shows through. I hope you understand we are working hard for children every day," Ventura said to budget committee members before leaving the May meeting to attend a high school graduation.


ZCA Softball State Champs Again (CDH)

Zion Christian Academy Eagles are flying high after back-to-back year wins as their division state champions at a culminating game that followed a couple of rain cancellations before the team could even take the field.

By the time the game commenced, the Lady Eagles were poised to compete, with coaches and players alike, ready to prove they could take the Tennessee State Independent Athletic Association state champion title two years in a row.

The Lady Eagles racked up an impressive 12 runs in the first inning alone.

Isabella Cecil, who plays second base for Zion Christian Academy’s Eagles and was selected in her division for defensive player of the year, said she believes that her team can make it a “three-peat” next year, given their season play against tougher opponents and a still sturdy roster of five seniors starting next year.

“I think we can win another,” Cecil said. “Everyone on the team can hit. Molly [Underwood] is our best hitter.”

But Cecil, who was 2-3 at the plate with two RBI runs and a stolen base, had a .846 batting average herself, with an added knack for laying down a sacrifice bunt.

The game ended on the mercy rule after the score showed the team’s dominance of 15-0 after only three innings of play.

“After Marleigh [McWilliams] (offensive player of the year) hit that home run off the first pitch, there was no stopping the energy,” Cecil said. “It was a really energetic game, and we all hit like crazy after that.”

The Christian Community School Colts team was “caught off guard,” Cecil said, “and they are the second best team in the division.”

The team’s pitcher helped by keeping runners off base, Ashleia Coble (pitcher of the year) sent many CCS players right back to the dugout.

“It was exciting to be in the state championship game again this year with my teammates,” Coble said. “I was so pumped when MJ led the game off on the first pitch home run.

“I knew they would have my back, and I needed to do my job and have theirs.”

Pitching coach for ZCA and father to Ashleia, Eric Coble said the Lady Eagles were fortunate to have such solid pitching.

“We have two juniors Ashleia Coble and Pearl Davis already committed to college play at South Alabama and Roane State, respectively.

Part of the goal Coble said has been to keep a steady rotation and keeping throwing arms healthy throughout the year.

“Our game plan was to attack the strike zone early and stay away from free bases,” Coble said. “Ashleia did a great job of that.”

Zion Christian Academy’s sports programs have come a long way from the days when they first formed a baseball team in the late 1990s, ZCA head coach Russ Adcox said.

“And softball just feels different,” Cecil said, who also plays basketball for ZCA. “It feels like a family to me, and we have such a great bond.”

In his third year as head coach, Adcox said the players at ZCA have been laying a solid foundation for a program that has been building.

Adcox said the Lady Eagles kept a momentum that set the tone and energy for the game, largely thanks to what he calls one of the best offensive teams he’s seen in years.

Another aspect that helped the Lady Eagles be ready for play, Adcox said was the really tough non-district schedule the team kept during season play.

Adcox mentioned Riverdale, Walker Valley and even some other schools that are still alive in the post season right now.

For ZCA, the TSIAA state championship is where their season ends, but Adcox says this team was building a team that will outlive their own careers at Zion.

Coaching is like a homecoming for former Columbia Academy and University of Tennessee, Knoxville softball superstar, Shelby Burchell, who now serves ZCA team as an assistant coach.

“My job has been so easy, and they’re the ones getting better,” the former two-time college world series player said. “I saw a lot of girls this year who wanted to prove themselves.”

With 10 years of instruction in hitting and a coaching start cut short by COVID-19 at Central High School, Adcox is glad that Burchell landed at Zion.

“She is one of the best hitting instructors in the state,” Adcox said.

Burchell said their opponents at the championship game were not bad at all, but the Eagles just outplayed them very quickly.

“It was great to see their hard work pay off,” Burchell said.

With the coaches and a strong lineup of seniors beginning next year, Adcox said a third championship is definitely a possibility.

“We have a lot of really great leadership,” Adcox said. “This is a great group of girls and we can do it again.”


Alzheimers Walk (Press Release)

Alzheimer’s Tennessee invites you to join them for their second annual walk to support families impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease or a related dementia. The 2023 Maury County Walk will be held on Saturday June 3rd at Maury County Park and Senior Center 1016 Maury County Park drive in Columbia. The festivities begin at 9:00AM with music from Chris Yow, line dancing, children’s activities and a pet area. Kona Ice and Munch’s food trucks will be on site. Dress up your furry friend and enter them in the best dressed/ most purple pet contest. Register on their website www.alztennessee.org/maurywalk . We hope to see you there as we Walk to Make Alzheimer’s a Memory! And remember, all funds raised stay local!


Columbia Lions Football Camp

The Columbia Central Lions Football program is hosting a youth football camp on Saturday June 10th for kids ages 5-12. The University of Tennessee football players and 1 cheerleader will be coming to help all the coaches with the camp.

The cost of the camp is $50 and will take place at Eva Gilbert Park located at 120 Cord Drive in Columbia. Registration will take place on the 10th from 9-10am, the camp will last from 10-12 and will feature skills and agility training. There are 150 spots reserved for football players ages 5-12 and 50 spots reserved for cheerleaders ages 5-12. From Noon-1:00 kids will get to have autographs signed by UT players Dayne Davis, Squirrel White, and Austin Lewis and cheerleader Willow Martinez.

From 1-4, will be family fun day with food, a dunk tank, and water slide.

For more information, you can visit www.cyaalions.com.


And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Sandra Peery Pogue, 84, retired Cafeteria Manager for Hampshire Unit School for 30 years and resident of Hampshire, died Monday, May 29, 2023 at West Meade Place in Nashville. 

 Funeral services will be conducted Friday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Stephen Kelley officiating. Burial will follow in Worley Cemetery. The family will visit with friends on Friday from 10:00 A.M. until service time at the funeral home. 


Mr. Hershel Todd Currie, 59, self-employed carpenter, craftsman and resident of Columbia, died Wednesday, May 31, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center. Funeral services for Mr. Currie will be conducted Monday at 6:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends Sunday from 4:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. and Monday from 4:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.


…And now, news from around the state…

Debt Ceiling Vote in House (Tennessean)

During a contentious vote on a measure to raise the federal $31.4 trillion debt ceiling by $4 trillion on Wednesday, more members of Tennessee's U.S. House delegation voted against the bill than voted for it.

Five of the eight Republicans in Tennessee's nine-member U.S. House delegation opposed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which will avoid a default on the national debt, and limit federal spending through January 2025.

Voting no on the measure were:

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg

U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Kingsport

U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Columbia

U.S. Rep. John Rose, R-Cookeville

Voting yes on the deal were:

U.S. Rep Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Clarksville

U.S. David Kustoff, R-Germantown

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis

"The American People deserve better than another DC swamp deal that does very little to address the rapidly growing albatross of our national debt," Ogles said in a statement ahead of the vote. “We cannot continue to write blank checks to fund Washington special interests. House Republicans have a responsibility as the most direct representation of the People to fight back against the Left’s out-of-control spending and restore fiscal responsibility."

The U.S. House passed the measure in a 314 to 117 vote. It now moves to the U.S. Senate, which is expected to take it up before the end of the week. Without an agreement to raise the debt limit signed by President Joe Biden by Monday, June 5, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the federal government may default and be unable to pay bills coming due.

Finalized by Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the weekend, the deal would end a suspension of student loan debt repayments begun during the COVID-19 pandemic, claw back $28 billion in unspent federal pandemic relief funds, impose new stricter work requirements for certain recipients of food stamps, and rescind $21 billion of the IRS' $80 billion budget, while still funding thousands of new IRS agents.

Despite victories touted by McCarthy, only three Tennessee Republicans supported the compromise.

Fleischmann called the bill “a good deal for the American People,” that will be “critical to restoring fiscal sanity in D.C.,” touting $2 trillion in federal spending cuts and new work requirements for federal welfare programs. 

Green agreed that the bill "puts constraints on the Biden agenda."

"Despite barely holding a majority in the House, having enough Democrats in the Senate to pass a clean debt ceiling, and having Democrat control of the White House, Republicans in the House got the President to negotiate, even after he said he wouldn’t," Green said.

A handful of Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have also voiced opposition to the bill, saying the President could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th Amendment, which mandates that all the federal government's financial obligations be met.

Tennessee Republicans opposed the deal for a vastly different reason.

“I am voting NO on passing down trillions more in debt to our children and grandchildren while giving Democrats a blank check to pay for their radical agenda, including the weaponization of federal agencies,” Rep. Harshbarger wrote on Twitter ahead of the vote. “It’s time to get our fiscal house in order and rein in wasteful spending.”


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

June is a Concert-Goer’s dream in Middle Tennesseans. If country music is your deal, then you can see Tanya Tucker play June 3rd and 4th at the Ryman Auditorium, Marty Stuart will be playing the Ryman on June 7th, and Walker Hayes will be in town on June 23rd at Ascend Amphitheatre.

That doesn’t even include the giant linup at CMA Fest from June 8-11. The stadium-sized country music hootenanny returns to Nashville for its 50th year. A who's who of radio hitmakers top the bill, including Nissan Stadium performances from Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Tim McGraw, Carly Pearce, Dan + Shay and more. Get more information at cmafest.com.


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