ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Board of Education voted 6-1 Thursday to close Range Elementary School at the end of the year, but by a similar vote it rejected the Long Range Facilities Plan that recommended closing other schools.
The vote on Range was taken after a recommendation was made by Director of Schools Kevin Ward to close the school as part of his plan to present a balanced budget for the next fiscal year. Ward estimated the closure would save the county school system more than $400,000 a year.
Ward acknowledged there were “legitimate concerns” by parents of Range students, but he said the children will receive “a first quality education, as good or better than Range,” at Central Elementary School, where the Range students will be assigned for next year.
Ward also addressed concerns about Smalling Bridge, which has a maximum load capacity of nine tons. He told the board the average 66-passenger bus would exceed that limit, but a 36-passenger bus loaded with students would still be a ton and a half under the limit.
After hearing Ward’s recommendation, Jerry McMahan made the motion to close Range and Ronnie McAmis seconded the motion. Board members said it was a very tough thing to do. Dave Buck was the only member to vote against closure. Don Julian was absent.
Following the vote, several Range supporters got up and walked out. One man shouted that the savings should come from the “fat” at the Central Office.
Immediately after the vote was taken, McAmis began a discussion on the Long Range Facilities Plan that had been developed by a study committee that met for more than a year. McAmis said the plan would cost an estimated $100 million and would consolidate the four county high schools into one centrally located new high school.
Buck said the plan sends the wrong signal, especially after the board just voted to close Range.
He said there is a suspicion in the community that the closing of Range was just the first step in an already determined plan to close other schools that the Long Range Facilities Plan targets.
“I am concerned about what we are telling the parents of students in Unaka and Keenburg,” Buck said.
McMahan, who led the study team that produced the long-range plan said there was a need to make amendments to the plan, but he felt it was premature to take a vote on whether to accept or reject it. He said the board has not had enough discussion on its proposals.
Board member Rusty Barnett said he would like to have more options and said he disagreed with the plan to have only one centralized high school.
McMahan said the plan could be altered but it provided a road map to direct the board members into meeting the school system’s needs for the future.
“Failure to plan ahead will doom you to mediocrity,” McMahan said. “You have got to look to the future.” He said the plan is designed to address the next 20 years and a vote now without a discussion of those findings would be premature.
Board member Bobby Blevins said “we have some old schools we need to do something about.”
Other board members objected to the estimated $100 million cost of the plan.
McMahan said the plan could be accomplished slowly for a lot less. He said the system could build the high school at a cost of $35 million and the county could use the savings from closing the four old high schools to finance the rest of the changes.
Following the discussion, a voice vote was taken and the Long Range Facilities Plan was rejected.