ELIZABETHTON — Range Elementary School, Carter County’s smallest school, might be closed and its students moved to Central Elementary School next year.
The closure was the recommendation Director of Schools Kevin Ward made to the Carter County Board of Education during a workshop session on Wednesday afternoon. The board must make a decision on whether to keep Range open or close it by the April board meeting at the latest in order to work the closure’s impact into the budget for the next fiscal year. Ward said the closure would save the county between $300,000 and $350,000 next year.
Ward has been struggling for several months to come up with a way to balance next year’s budget. The task was made especially difficult because the school system’s budget for this year was balanced by making $600,000 in one-time cuts that cannot be sustained for another year. Those cuts included not replacing any textbooks this year, saving $300,000; not buying buses, saving $100,000; as well as savings on maintenance supplies and spare parts.
Ward said he studied the budget for months to try to find some other alternative, but could not find another solution. “I am very reluctant to bring this to you,” Ward said.
According to the school board’s Long Range Facilities Plan, Range has the fewest number of students with 94. The next smallest is Little Milligan with 132. Central has 244 students. Range also has the lowest student to teacher ratio, with only 9 students to 1 teacher.
Ward recommended transferring the Range students to Central next year. He said the teachers would be reassigned to other positions. He planned to make up for the loss of 10 teaching positions at Range through retirement and attrition. New teachers would not be hired until the Range teachers had been placed in new slots.
“I am very disappointed, I’d hate to see Range School close,” said board member Dave Buck, whose district includes Range. Buck said if the students must be transferred to a new school, “I guarantee they will receive a superlative education at Central.”
Ward said one of the factors in his decision was that Central’s student attendance has declined in recent years so there is space and when Central’s attendance was higher the school was able to provide a good education for those larger numbers.
The decision on whether to close Range will probably be made during the April 18 board meeting. The board will hold two nonvoting workshop sessions and a regular meeting before the April board meeting. A workshop has been scheduled for March 18 at 4 p.m. to discuss the report of the Long Range Facilities Planning Team. That report also calls for the closure of Range as part of a systemwide consolidation from 16 schools to nine.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held on March 21 at 6 p.m. at Hampton Elementary School. A board workshop would be held at 3 p.m. on March 25 to discuss the upcoming budget as well as the closure of Range. The public will be invited to comment on the closure at this meeting. The same rules for public comments at board meetings will also apply to the workshop. That means those wishing to speak must notify the Central Office 10 days before the meeting.
“I don’t feel comfortable going forward without some community response, We need for that to occur,” said board member Craig Davis.
According to the school’s website, Range began in 1843 when Jonathan Range offered an old log cabin that was being used for a sheep shed to be used as a community school. The current building is the fourth one built to house the school and was constructed in 1964.
In other matters, the board readjusted the school calendar to make up for days lost to snow. The first day of spring break, March 25, will now be a school day. Other new school days will be May 13, which had been a professional development day, and the last day of school was moved to May 23.
The board also heard a recommendation for upgrades at school gymnasiums. New lighting for the gyms would be installed at the four high schools, Happy Valley Middle School and Hampton Elementary School at a cost of $43,875. That would be offset by an Energy Efficient Schools Initiative grant of $21,875 and a Tennessee Valley Authority grant for $7,000.
There was also a recommendation to install six new electric heaters at the Hunter Elementary School gymnasium at a cost of $6,647. The money for both projects would come from the balance of the Johnson Controls rebate money.
Other expenditures were recommended to partial reroofing at Hampton, Happy Valley and Keenburg elementary schools at an estimated cost of $373,531. The money would come from the sales tax referendum money designated for capital projects.