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Hear ye, Hear ye Carter County… Report accepted for invoice purposes, board freezes any school closing through 2021-22

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com 
Stressed-out students, parents, teachers, grandparents, and concerned citizens gathering outside the building holding the regular February session of the Carter County School Board to make sure the board knew their stand on the issue of school closings in Carter County specifically at Little Milligan and Keenburg.

However, the only issue the board was addressing in reference to a Cost Savings report presented by Dr. Keith Brewer was whether to accept the report as being what the board had asked for and to approve rendering payment for Brewer’s work.

There was never any intention by the Carter County School Board to begin the process of closing schools – the report was for informational purposes only.

However, due to a lot of inaccurate chatter throughout the county, tensions have been running at an elevated level for those community residents worrying that their school would be closed within the next year on top of dealing with the COVID-19 issues the school has faced within the last year.

And while there were other things for Director of Schools Dr. Tracy McAbee to address, the issue surrounding school closings filled most of the board’s time.

School board chairman Tony Garland made a personal statement before opening the floor to the remaining board members.

“We are only voting to accept the receipt of the report by Dr. Brewer and that this is a cost-savings report,” said Garland. “The sole purpose is to provide more than what we are doing.

“The loss of 1,000 students equates to $7,000,000. Since 1960, there have been nine schools closed in Carter County. In 1987, Midway School closed, and in 2012 Range School closed.

“We have four different reports that show that maintaining the number of buildings is hurting our system. It’s emotional and very personal. This particular topic will affect each of us,” Garland continued. “The people that I have spoken to don’t argue about redistributing, only the schools that would be impacted.”

Some of the potential examples Garland shared included increasing the number of counselors, increase the number of course offerings, better CTE course offerings that make a student more employable, and increase the support of band, cheerleading, and other programs the system has to offer.

Board member Kelly Crain thanked Dr. Brewer for his work on the study but echoed that it was only a basic snapshot of the system done in five days which was not enough time to find out what makes the schools tick.

Crain further stated that by closing schools there was the question of where to put those students being redistributed and the cost of building onto existing schools to receive the students.

He also cleared the air about the report being done and whether it was Dr. McAbee’s directive to do so.

“This was not Dr. McAbee’s plan,” Crain stated. “We have been talking about this long before he came. This is my fourth study.

“Right now the morale is down and there is a lot of stress that we are putting on people.”

Crain made a motion either to vote yes or no to pursue the report or stop it all together.

Board member Danny Ward said he felt it would be an injustice to do completely away with the report especially after spending $7,500 to have it completed.

He suggested that there may be some good information in the report the board could use but didn’t agree with all of the report especially when it came to closing schools.

“We have to be transparent to the citizens of Carter County and educate them on why we do the things we do,” Ward said. “Do we need to do something?

“Yeah, we do. Our funding is dwindling away. $7,000,000 is a lot of money to lost students. We can’t stop looking for solutions. We are only looking for information.

“All the people out there worrying about the schools – keep on fighting for your schools because I would.”

After hearing each member’s remarks, Crain amended his motion to put a freeze on closing any school in Carter County for one year throughout the 2021-2022 school year.

Dr. McAbee had reminded the board that any motion made had to be done so careful to not pigeon-hole the starting point of any project the board may decide to back.

The statement had been made due to some chatter of redoing Hunter School to make it better and that the project would take approximately 24 months to complete should the board elect to do something along those lines and a wrongly made motion could possibly affect the starting date of any project.

When all was said and done, all seven members of the school board voted in favor of Crain’s motion of putting a freeze on closing schools throughout the 2021-2022 school year.

The significance of the motion comes as BEP money will remain the same throughout that school year but at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the funds could change significantly.

In other happenings, Dr. McAbee advised that per Tennessee Code that summer school must be offered. The Take 5 program is a mandatory six-week summer school for K-5 which will allow for a four-week break when completed.

Breakfast and lunch would still be provided.

Summer school for middle school is a four-week time frame which will allow for about five weeks of a break once completed.

Dr. McAbee advised that the current plan is to take a one-week break at the end of the regular school year and then begin summer school.

The Director also addressed graduation dates in which he has reached out for student’s input on how they would want to hold their graduation whether on a football field or at State-Line Drive In to allow for more people to attend and adhere to social distancing.

After speaking with principals and supervisors, Dr. McAbee stated the dates would either be the 14th or 15th of May or one week later which would be the 21st and 22nd should there be bad weather on the earlier date.

Also addressed was returning to school five days a week.

Dr. McAbee stated that after talking with high school teachers that a majority felt it would be better for the high schools to stay on four days a week of in-person learning with the remote learning day remaining.

The reasoning according to McAbee is those teachers are teaching brick and mortar and then turning around and teaching virtual as well. The remote day would also allow students to come in for individual help if needed.

Students in K-8 would not be impacted by returning to the classroom five days a week however it was brought up that Dr. McAbee might want to check with his eighth-grade teachers to see if they might have the same impact as experience at the high school level.

The plan appears headed toward finishing the current nine-week period before sending the students back on a five-day school week. The end of the nine-week period is March 12th.

Also, four teachers were recognized prior to the meeting.

Those teachers were:
Grades K-4: Cloudland Elementary School’s Kimberly Street who is in her 30th year of education.
Grades 5-8: Little Milligan’s Melissa McClain in her 16th year of teaching and Hampton’s Travis Ranshaw who is in his 24th year.
Grades 9-12: Happy Valley High School’s Paula Sessis who is in her sixth year of teaching.

The next board workshop is on March 11th and the next school board meeting is on March 18th.

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