Plan suggests reducing Carter Co. schools from 16 to 9

John Thompson • Feb 5, 2013 at 9:53 AM

ELIZABETHTON — After more than a year of study, community meetings in all sections of the county and the gathering of reams of data on population projections, financial growth and annexation plans, the recommended plan of the Long Range Facilities Team was presented to the Carter County School Board in a workshop session Monday.

The plan was presented by team leader Jerry McMahan, who said the team recommended the county schools consolidate from 16 schools to 9. The plan would be developed in several phases as funding and school system infrastructure permitted.

McMahan said the first step was to consolidate the system’s four high schools into one centralized high school, to be built in the Hampton area, the geographic center of the county. The best location would be somewhere on Gap Creek Road near U.S. Highway 19E if land is available there.

The team recommended the high school should be built to accommodate 1,600 students. McMahan said it should be built with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs in mind and would include appropriate athletic fields and a campus for such a school.

In addition to the high school, the plan envisions the county jointly operating the Herman Robinson Campus of the Tennessee Technology Center-Elizabethton once the state school is consolidated at its campus in the Watauga Industrial Park. The Elizabethton City School System would be a partner in operating Herman Robinson as a technology education center.

McMahan said once the new high school is built and occupied, the four former high schools would be vacant and could then be remodeled and refurbished to meet the needs of middle school students. The county’s only middle school at present, Happy Valley Middle School, could remain in that role or could be moved to the vacant Happy Valley High School. The current Hampton and Unaka high schools would be converted to middle schools.

By removing the students in grades 6 through 8, there would be more space at the elementary schools for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The plan recommends consolidating the elementary students into five schools: Cloudland Elementary, Hampton Elementary, Little Milligan, Hunter Elementary and Happy Valley Elementary.

The plan would close Valley Forge, Unaka, Keenburg, Range and Central elementary schools, transferring the students to the remaining elementary schools.

One of the keys to financing the plan would be the cost savings achieved through consolidation. Much of the savings would be in personnel costs. At the high school level, three principals would be eliminated, saving $195,000 per year; four assistant principals eliminated, saving $220,000 per year; and 34 teachers eliminated, saving $1.7 million per year. Other savings would bring the total annual savings at the high school level to $2.24 million.

At the elementary level, there would be a reduction of four principals, saving $260,000 per year; a reduction of four assistant principals, saving $220,000; and a reduction of 25 teachers, saving $1.25 million.

The total budget reduction from both elementary and high school consolidation would be $4.56 million.

Those savings would help pay the cost of the new construction for the centralized high school and the refurbishment and remodeling of the other schools. The total cost of the project would be around $70 million. To borrow that amount would require a total bond package of $100 million to cover the portion that would be given to the Elizabethton City Schools. A 20-year payback would require annual payments of around $7 million. The $4.5 million in savings would help offset those costs.

McMahan said another factor in considering the overall cost is to consider the cost of doing nothing. He said with the deteriorating infrastructure — some of the schools were built in 1909 — it costs more and more to maintain the buildings. He said the maintenance costs are projected to increase by $900,000 each year.

The entire plan can be downloaded from the Internet at the Carter County Schools’ website, www.carter.k12.tn.us.

The plan will now be presented to the school board during a regular meeting. If it is approved, it will probably go to the Education Committee of the Carter County Commission prior to being sent to the full commission for consideration.

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