The Clark County Board of Education approved a measure in its regular meeting Tuesday night to delay the planned merger of county middle schools into the current high school building starting with the 2013-14 school year.
Conkwright Middle School students will still move into the larger building next year, but Clark Middle School will not move. How this would affect the planned restructuring of elementary schools is not immediately clear. It is also unclear whether the district would surrender the $16.7 million in state funds to build a new elementary school.
Eleven people spoke to the board during the meeting, with most speaking in favor of delaying the merger or halting the process completely.
“I can’t see any justification for combining the middle schools,” Carson Brooks said. “Kids don’t learn in a large environment. ... Let’s step back and take a look at what you’re doing to these kids’ education.”
While Brooks was the first to speak, his thoughts were echoed as more members of the public took the podium. The consensus was to slow down the process and gather more information.
“I don’t think we have enough data,” Shawna Wells said.
“If we could slow down, I think we would do a lot of hearts good tonight,” James Martin said.
Renee Ware, a teacher at Clark Middle School, said she felt the threat of losing good teachers to other communities because of the merger was very real.
Janet Brown, a counselor at Central Elementary School, spoke in favor of the merger.
“They had a vision in 2006 to create equity for our students,” she said. “It’s not about the size of the building, it’s about developing relationships with students.”
Amy Williams cautioned the board to ensure some plan was in place if a delay or complete stop was called on the merger.
“A few of our students have been on the short end,” she said. “Cramming students into rooms at maximum capacity is not serving our students.”
Board chairman Michael Kuduk said he brought the topic up for discussion at the meeting because of concerns he had about the merger and the lack of a dollar amount attached to the combined middle school. He did not wish for the board to discuss the whole facilities plan, but to slow the process with a delay to allow the Academic Steering Committee for Combined Middle Schools more time and to get a clearer picture of the merger.
Kuduk said he thought the board needed to know the cost of the old high school building renovation and the Clark Middle renovation before it could move forward.
Board member Judy Hicks said she was concerned about delaying the merger with other schools becoming transitional into the facilities plan.
“Presumably, if GRC houses Conkwright for next year and Clark Middle stays as a middle school in its current location next year, then we’re looking at some additional time before the transitional schools will be moved into permanent locations,” she said. “It would be wonderful and great if our general fund could support everything we want to do, but it can not.”
Schools in a transitional state cannot be repaired with construction funds, Hicks said. Any repairs would have to come from the general fund, potentially costing the school district jobs.
Kuduk, Michael McGowan and Ashley Ritchie voted in favor of delaying the merger while Beth Griffith abstained and Hicks voted against the measure.
The district was also given $16.7 million as part of an action by the state’s General Assembly to eliminate Category 5 schools, or those in a state of “urgent need.” Those funds were awarded based on a facility plan approved by the Kentucky¿Board of Education. Any changes to that plan would have to be approved the state.
“There’s a process they have to go through to alter the facilities plan,” Kay Kennedy of the Kentucky Department of Education said. “It’s speculative at this point, but in the event they take money under one set of expectations then do something else with it, it’s not a big jump that you would have to forfeit.”
In a Feb. 20, 2011 letter to Superintendent Elaine Farris, the executive director of the School Facilities Construction Commission Robert Tarvin said, “if the Clark County Board of Education should choose not to implement the plan concerning category 5 buildings in your district that was in effect on May 18, 2010, it would forfeit $16.7 million in state supported bonding.”
The plan approved in 2010 is the current facilities plan. A new plan is presented to the state every four years.
“Eventually, they will come to the Kentucky Board of Education with a facilities plan, but to speculate on what-ifs is not productive from our end,” Kennedy said. “Our expectation is the projects will be carried out in Clark County according to the facilities plan.”
Contact Casey Castle at email@example.com.