Waste Management donation sparks controversy

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Randy Hubbell, principal of Lewisburg Middle School, asked the school board for approval of a digital display sign to be placed at LMS. The funds for the sign are being donated by Waste Management.

Board members saw an artist's impression of the sign on the school's fašade, with a large square for Waste Management's logo, next to the words "Lewisburg Middle School."

Below this are lines of type that can be programmed to deliver any message that the school wants to communicate to people pulling up to its door.

"I appreciate Waste Management wanting to donate," said board member Curt Denton, "But they're putting a sign on the building where everyone went to complain about Waste Management. There's a bunch of people in this county who don't agree with Waste Management."

"We took money for the softball program," said Hubbell.

"I'm not happy about that either," rejoined Denton.

"Why LMS?" asked board member Mike Keny.

"I started talking with them back in October," replied Hubbell.

"Would they donate without having their name on the sign?" asked Denton. "After all, they're getting the same tax break."

"I doubt it," replied Hubbell.

"There are other company names on signs, for instance at the ball fields," said Keny.

"Those companies haven't caused controversy," said Denton.

Taking the role of peacemaker, board member Craig Michael complemented Hubbell for his initiative, but called it a "sensitive issue" and asked if compromise was possible.

Keny asked to table the request until the next regular board meeting, but Michael said they could discuss it at the building committee meeting tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 19), and vote on it at the special called school board meeting the following Tuesday.

"We took money for athletics; it doesn't look good to turn this down," said Hubbell.

He was referring to Waste Management's presentation of $10,000 to the Marshall County High School girls' softball team in January, 2008, to pay for major refurbishment to the announcers' building/concession stand. On that occasion, the community relations manager for Waste Management, Terri Douglas, said, "Our goal is to be a trusted and valued community partner and we look for ways to partner with the communities we serve."

According to LMS assistant principal Cheryl Ewing, numerous schools in the area have such signs, including Chapel Hill Elementary. CHES principal Dean Delk told the Tribune that their sign cost $19,500 two years ago, including a five-year extended warranty. It was paid for in full by Chapel Hill's K.I.D.D.S. First organization. Key Individual Developing School Success First is the CHES parent-teacher organization that is dedicated to enhancing communication between the parents, teachers, students, and the community focusing on Chapel Hill Elementary School.

Chapel Hill parents are reported to find the sign very useful as a source of up-to-the-minute information.