Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

May 24, 2011

Some Metcalfe parents angry over school closure

EDMONTON — A group of more than 20 parents tried Monday night to get Metcalfe County School Board members to change their minds about closing Summer Shade and North Metcalfe Elementary schools.

The group turned out for the school board’s special-called meeting. Speaking on their behalf was Chris Isenberg, a concerned parent, who presented the school board with a petition of more than 1,000 names of people who do not support the school board’s decision to consolidate student populations from all three elementary schools in the county to create primary and intermediate centers on board-owned property in a centralized location in Edmonton.

“We believe these schools are better for the school children and the communities and also for the county,” he said.

The parents have been meeting on their own and chose Isenberg to represent them Monday night.

“We just hope that you as elected officials will make the right decisions that we put you in place to do; [to] think everything through,” he said.

Isenberg asked school board members to consider redistricting and building two schools instead of one large enough for 900 students.

He also asked them to consider the negative effect the closing of the schools would have on the communities.

As for the condition of Summer Shade and North Metcalfe Elementary schools, Isenberg said they are not in any worse condition than Edmonton Elementary.

If those reasons weren’t enough, Isenberg said he and the parents he represent are willing to take a chance on the school system losing the state allocation it received to build the new school.

“We’re to the point we would rather see the money go back than close the schools,” he said.

Metcalfe was one of several school districts statewide that appeared on a list of school districts with critical needs for facilities. The school system has two schools that have been identified as Category 5 schools by the Kentucky Department of Education. Category 5 schools are schools that are 40 years old or older and qualify for either renovation or replacement. North Metcalfe and Summer Shade Elementary schools are at least 50 years old, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

The General Assembly took the list into consideration when it met in May and agreed to equalize a five-cent property tax, if the school systems agreed to levy it.

The offer of assistance from the state will cover 80 percent of the cost to build the new 52,000 square foot school or $9.5 million.

Isenberg also asked the school board to do a better job of “getting out the word” about their plan.

Larry Bandy, a member of the audience, told school board members the school system would end up losing a lot of students if they closed the schools.

“I just keep thinking we’re going down the wrong path,” he said.

Bandy spoke with members of the local facilities planning committee, which met four years ago to discuss the school district’s facility needs, about the decision to build a new elementary school. At one time it was said the new school would be built in the Beaumont area, he said.

“I don’t know how it got misconstrued. I don’t know how it got changed,” Bandy said.

After he had finished his speech, school board member Karen Tudor thanked the group for the manner in which they presented their opinion. The school board did not respond to the comments Isenberg and Bandy made.

Following the school board meeting, Greg Harris, school board chairman, and Pat Hurt, superintendent, were questioned about the plea to keep the schools open.

Harris said he thought Isenberg’s presentation was very professional.

“I thought he did an excellent job presenting his case,” he said. “I thought he researched it very well and made a lot of good points even though the decision has already been made. We made that decision back in July.”

Hurt said it would be up to the school board if it wanted to come back and revisit the issue.

“Everybody, without hearing otherwise, is supporting the original decision they made in July, but I think will listen. We have listened. We will keep an open mind,” she said.

As of Monday night, Hurt said none of the school board members had approached her about revisiting the issue but said it is possible they could do it at a later date.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.

The state has provided funds to build only one school, despite the fact that Metcalfe County has two elementary schools that the state has said need to be replaced.

Without the allocation from the state, the school board wouldn’t have enough money to build a new school on its own for another 20 to 30 years. The only project that is being funded solely by the school system is the construction of the new middle school.

“That’s why this offer from the state was something the board had to entertain because it basically gave us 80 percent of the new school without cost to the board of education,” she said. “It allows us to build one of the two schools that is on our current facilities plan. But it means we can only build one and so the board voted in December. … They chose the local site. But the decision to levy a nickel [tax] for the new school, which was a condition the state provided, was done last July. So we’re almost a year moving forward with the decision and with the plan.”

Hurt continued that if the school board turns down the state’s allocation for the new school then the school system will have to make do with the three elementary schools as they are, because the school system can’t afford to replace the schools on its own and won’t be able to for another 30 years.

The school system is not allowed to make any repairs on the three elementary schools because the state has identified all of them as category five schools, Harris said.

“The state was the one that decided which two schools to close,” he said, adding that when the school system accepted the state’s offer of assistance the state then told the school board it would have to close two schools. The school board could either accept the state’s officer or reject it in full. Hurt and Harris said it was a tough decision to make but they both felt it was the best one the school board could have made.

“Many of the conversations that were brought out here tonight we had among ourselves for the past several years. There are pros and cons to any decision we have to make,” Hurt said.

If the school board continues with its current plan to close the schools and parents opposed to the idea choose to send their children to other school districts, Hurt said it is a “a risk that is involved with the decision the board has made.”

“We have to hope our people will stay with us, but they have a right to choose,” she said.

Tudor and Lakettia O’Leary, also a school board member, said they believed the parents who turned out for Monday night’s meeting had confused the primary and intermediate centers with the construction of the new middle school, even though articles about both projects had been written in the local newspapers.

“Ultimately our goal is to work toward what is in the best interest of the children. That’s always been our number one priority and goal and that is still what we focus on,” Tudor said. “It was a hard decision when we made the decision. I appreciate the manner in which Mr. Isenberg presented the information tonight and I appreciate the community coming out like they did and I think they have presented themselves really well. Ultimately, the children’s best interest is what we have at heart.”

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