ELIZABETHTON — The 3-2 split on the Elizabethton City School Board was once again in effect at Thursday’s meeting in the new gymnasium at East Side Elementary School, with board member Connie Baker strongly criticizing Superintendent Ed Alexander for closing the system’s administration building to her community programs.
The board did come together on several issues, including voting unanimously to purchase state-of-the-art flight simulator equipment that will make the city’s high school the only one in the nation to offer such technology to its students.
The board authorized the expenditure of $86,484.99 for the Redbird flight simulator. Most of the funds will come from one-time state Basic Education Program money.
The simulator was explained to the board by Elizabethton High School teacher Dan Mills, who will be training the aviation students. He said it is a full-motion simulator with pitch, yaw and roll. It has six screens that provide a 200-degree wing-tip-to-wing-tip field of view.
“It can be programmed to simulate any airport in the nation,” Mills said after the meeting. “You can simulate it for Elizabethton Airport and you will see Holston Mountain and Iron Mountain, Watauga Lake and so on. You can do it for both day and night. It is very flexible.
In addition to helping some students get a start in a career in aviation, Mills hopes his classes will also encourage some students who are not motivated by most academic subjects to keep in school. He said his first two classes are open to more than 50 students.
The class using the simulator must be limited to only eight students, because of the amount of time each student needs to spend in the simulator. Mills still hopes to use the promise of one day being able to train in the simulator as a carrot to encourage students to keep up their studies and maintain good behavior.
Board member Kim Birchfield seemed especially pleased with the advancement. He said the class is something he has been working toward the entire time he has been on the board.
The continuing 3-2 split was highlighted when Baker addressed the board not as a board member but as director of the Community Information Center. She said the organization has been using the school system’s administration building for 10 years as a meeting place. She said the organization has been denied the use of the building a few months ago by Alexander.
She said the organization has used the building to teach GED classes and small-business startup classes and hold after-school tutoring and numerous workshops through the years.
She said she has always double checked to make sure the building had been cleaned and locked and she never had any complaints from the administration. She said that changed two years ago.
She said she was ‘”surprised and disappointed” when she found out that recently installed Internet lines to her meeting area had been cut on Alexander’s orders. She said the Internet was needed for tutoring and GED classes.
Alexander made no comments during Baker’s talk.
Barker’s ally on the board, Catherine Armstrong, said “Mrs. Baker works so hard at it. It’s a good program.”
Baker had asked that a request to use the cafeteria area for tutoring and the GED program be placed on the agenda. Baker was given a designated spot during the time for citizens to speak, but her request was not included as an agenda item.
Board member Rita Booher said she was not prepared for such a short notice. Birchfield agreed with Booher. He said the request “was sprung on us at the last minute.”
Chairman Matt Cooter said the board has historically never been involved in facility use questions. He said that was something boards had always left to the administrators.
Following the meeting, Baker said she was disappointed a decision on her request had been postponed. She said the programs had originally been scheduled to start Sept. 5. The next board meeting won’t be until October.
“You would think that someone in education would be in favor of free education,” Baker said.
Two other matters brought forward by Armstrong were also defeated by 3-2 votes. Armstrong had sought architectural drawings on what it would look like if additional classrooms were built on the east side of T.A. Dugger Jr. High School. She also wanted to obtain bids on how much it would cost to make repairs to the stands at Brown-Childress Stadium.
Before each vote, Cooter said the board had already approved a long-range capital projects plan that includes renovations at T.A. Dugger and a series of athletic facilities.