Supporters seek to prevent Carter Co. school’s closing

John Thompson • Mar 26, 2013 at 8:40 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Four people who would like to see Range Elementary School kept open addressed the Carter County Board of Education during a workshop session Monday afternoon.

The board heard the arguments from the citizens and Director of Schools Kevin Ward commented on several of the points made by them. None of the board members commented. A vote on the closure won’t be made until an official board meeting.

Carter County Commissioner Charles Von Cannon and parents Paul Schmucker, Paula Smith and Amy Sigman addressed the board.

Von Cannon said he was especially concerned about the Smalling Bridge, which students from Range would have to cross to get to their new school at Central Elementary if the closure is made. He said the bridge was built in 1941 and has been rated by the state as structurally deficient and in poor condition. He said it has no guardrails at the approach.

“I would suggest that before you transport anyone, you get on this bridge before you drop a bus in the river,” Von Cannon said.

He asked why the school system did not consider closing Valley Forge instead of Range, because those students would not have to cross a deficient bridge to get to a new school.

Ward said he had visited with the Carter County Highway Department and discussed the bridge.

“We have buses going across that bridge now,” Ward said. If the school was closed, he said the use of the bridge would “basically be a reverse cycle from what it is now.”

Ward said the bridge was in better shape than a lot of the bridges in the county.

Von Cannon suggested as an alternative to closing Range that the students in grades 6-8 be transferred to Central. That would allow the students now being taught in modular classrooms to be moved to the main building at Range.

He asked the school system to look at other alternatives to closing Range.

Schmucker said he has four children and he is pleased with the education they received at Range and the test scores they have achieved.

“We believe that closing a school that is doing well will have a negative impact on the students and community,” Schmucker said. “What you are proposing will overcrowd the schools.” He also asked about the future for teachers and staff at Range.

Ward said he and the board members were “concerned about the welfare of the students.” He said everyone who works at Range will be given priority in filling other slots. He said teachers will have first priority for other positions, except those who require a teacher certified in a subject in which none of the teachers at Range have a certification.

Smith said she has three children at Range. “My daughter is almost legally blind,” Smith said. She said the Range teachers take the time to meet the needs of all her children, something that she did not think would happen at a larger school. “My daughter will suffer tremendously,” Smith said.

Ward said “your kids will get a good education at Central, if the decision is to close Range.” He said the student-to-teacher ratio will be higher. He also said Central works to include parents in the education process.

Smith questioned how much savings the school system would gain by closing Range.

Ward said seven teaching positions would be eliminated, saving $350,000. Staff positions, telephone, electricity, water, propane and other costs would bring the total savings to $476,198 next year.

Smith said some families could not afford the extra gasoline it would take to remain as active in a more distant school. She said her children would no longer be able to participate in after-school programs.

Smith also asked Ward why Range was chosen for closure.

“The numbers,” Ward said. Range is the smallest school in the system with less than 100 students. “The numbers and the proximity of another school that can take them.”

Following the discussion on the closure of Range, the board held a preliminary discussion on the 2013-14 budget.

Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach said the school system will require an additional $1.3 million to balance the budget next year.

She said the school system must make up $660,000 in one-time cuts it made last year to balance the budget. Those cuts include such essential needs as school buses and textbooks, which were not purchases last year.

Another big hit is coming from an expected increase in insurance. Insurance is expected to rise by $400,000.

Other losses are expected from declining school enrollment, especially in comparison to increased enrollment at Elizabethton City Schools. The ratio between county and city students is expected to change by a half percent, meaning the county’s share of local revenue is expected to decrease by $106,000. The lower number of students means the Basic Education Program funds provided by the state are roughly estimated to drop by $150,000.

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