K-6 faces Monday night vote

Friday, March 27, 2009

A special called meeting of Marshall County's School Board is scheduled for Monday evening when a vote is anticipated on where children in grades K-6 will go to school.

Such a decision is to be made now because budgets must be set and plans made for the next school year as soon as possible, according to School Board Chairwoman Ann Tears.

School System Budget Director Janet Wiles elaborated on the special set meeting.

The reason for the urgency in the Board deciding on the grade configurations is based on the following issues:

* Federal allocations have to be appropriated to schools based on free and reduced lunch numbers and the system's federal funds supervisor, Linda Williams-Lee, needs to know what grades will be at each school to determine their needs.

* Kindergarten registration is in mid- to late-April, so it has to be known what schools will have kindergarten classes;

* Special education teachers and administrators must start planning, and;

* Changes in grade configuration can affect the number of teachers needed, and teachers have to be notified by April 15 if they are not re-hired for the following year.

Schools Director Stan Curtis announced the 5 p.m. Monday meeting to be held in the Central Office on Jones Circle.

The board was already planning to meet later that day for a non-voting work session.

"We need to go forward with plans to make all the schools K-6," Tears said on Wednesday.

Asked if she was certain "Option C" would be passed, Tears said, "We won't know until our meeting - we'll have to see how the whole board votes."

Option C is one of four configurations on where various grade levels will be held at three elementary schools in Lewisburg: Marshall, OakGrove and Westhills Elementary schools.

Tears' call for a special voting session was a surprise to some.

"It's news to me," board member Curt Denton said about the special called meeting. "Nobody asked me" if I was free at that time.

"I'm not happy about this," Building Committee Chairman Craig Michael said. "She didn't consult with me. I serve on the Marshall County Ethics Committee, which has a meeting on March 30th at 5 p.m. I am perplexed not only by the date of the Special Called meeting, but especially by the time selected."

Since Michael made that statement, the Tribune has learned that the ethics meeting has been postponed to an unspecified future date, due to issues with one of the attorneys involved.

"As chairman of the building committee," Michael continued, "it is my responsibility to present to the board what recommendations resulted from the March 23rd Building Bommittee meeting. There was no motion made to set a special called meeting date, and no mention of time constraints either at that meeting or in the director's report to the full board."

The recommendations he was intending to present at the full board's regular meeting on April 9 were that:

* The Board approve "Option C" which calls for grades K-6 to be housed at all three Lewisburg schools, Westhills, Oak Grove, and Marshall Elementary, and;

* More information be gathered on where to locate the grades, including an analysis of the cost of making MES equitable for the older grades.

"We're giving the board two options," Michael said. "The minutes will reflect that we recommended C by a vote of 3-2, and that we also recommended more study.

"They're not bound to accept the recommendation of the committee," Michael cautioned.

The teachers at the affected schools voted overwhelmingly for Option C, and asserted "we can make it work," but some board members are concerned by the situation at MES.

Denton seemed frustrated about the situation.

"I'll repeat it over and over," Denton said. "The space at MES is not adequate for fifth and sixth grades. The long-term answer is to put sixth grade at Lewisburg Middle School: it could hold another 200 easily."

Although the other schools in the county are not affected by the current controversy, Chapel Hill parents in particular are observing with interest.

"If Lewisburg schools have K-6, we need that in Chapel Hill, too," said Anthony Puca, parent of a sixth grader.

Currently, Chapel Hill Elementary houses grades K-5, and Forrest High School has grades 6-12 which puts sixth graders in the same building with high school students and creates problems, the parent said.

The school board members from the Chapel Hill districts are Randy Perryman and Mark Wilkerson. Wilkerson is not a member of the building committee. Perryman is, and voted "yes" for the "Option C" recommendation, while abstaining from the vote on the "more information" recommendation.

Most school board members were already planning to attend a work session Monday afternoon. It's unclear whether all will be available for the later special called meeting.

"It would be unfortunate if all board members were not provided the opportunity to vote on such an important issue," Michael concluded.