A $1.2 million donation from the developer of Stephens Valley to Franklin High School was pulled on Friday.
John Rochford, the developer, had wanted an assurance that his large under-construction residential subdivision would be zoned for Franklin High and Grassland feeder schools in Williamson County Schools upcoming rezoning, which will be voted on Monday night by the WCS board.
The developer offered the money to help with the Franklin High expansion and renovation.
Rochford, however, has rescinded the offer.
The donation received criticism.
“It is my understanding that under this proposal, if they are rezoned to school zones other than Franklin/Grassland during the designated time period, Williamson County schools would have to return the money,” Williamson County Commissioner Barb Sturgeon, District 5, said.
“I believe this latest development could be establishing a dangerous precedent. I don’t want developers to perceive that our school zoning is for sale.”
Currently, the development, which is at the intersection of Sneed Road and Pasquo Road, is zoned for Franklin schools, according to Trey Rochford. Sitting on the county line, Rochford has plans for 900 homes in Williamson County with another 300 or more in Davidson County.
“My father found out there was a need at Franklin, and said, ‘I can help with that,’ so he made the offer,” Trey Rochford said. “He thought, if he is going to put up a significant amount of money into renovations at Franklin, it only seemed fair that residents in our development would be able to enjoy the benefits of that. That’s all that was. With people saying it was a bribe, a bribe is under the table and illegal, and what we made was an offer, where we felt we could come in and alleviate some of the burden on the county, but we just wanted the stipulation on it that if we spend this money so taxpayers did not have to, to make sure our residents could benefit from it.”
He made the point that the Stephens Valley development is projected to add about 27 students per year total to the WCS system, and that to spot zone it and split them off from the surrounding community, which goes to Franklin, is not really a logical decision.
“Franklin is not currently over-crowded, that gets lost in all this, and our addition of 2 students per grade per year was not going to change that. We felt it wasn’t fair to be zoned to Fairview when others farther out from Franklin than us would still go to Franklin,” Rochford said.
With the passage last week of funds for expansion plans for Brentwood High and Middle schools, Stephens Valley is likely to remain zoned to Franklin. A Plan B, for the contingency zoning plan if that funding did not pass, pushed Stephens Valley out of Franklin and into Fairview.
“If Mr. Rochford is inspired to generously donate to improve Williamson County Schools, with no strings attached, then Fairview High School could use the donation as much as Franklin,” Sturgeon said. “In fact, if this truly was a gift, I would encourage the Williamson business community to follow his example and give donations to support all our schools which fuel our economic growth.”
“To make an agreement to accept private funds in exchange for builders preferred school zoning is not accepting a donation, it is selling zoning.”
Williamson County Schools and the county have been getting as creative as possible in seeking ways to fund the more than half-billion dollars in needed new schools over the next decade. Last week, the city of Brentwood agreed to contribute $2.4 million.
“I applaud the School Board and Dr. Looney for creatively evaluating funding solutions for our schools but this potential arrangement should not be considered equal to Brentwood’s contribution of $2.4 million for Brentwood Middle and High school renovations,” Sturgeon said. “One is taxpayer dollars received through the Adequate Schools Facility Tax and used for the welfare of the public. The other is not.”