School board debates closing McKinney Elementary School

Published 10:34 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

STANFORD — After several years of debating whether to keep McKinney Elementary School open or close it for good, the Lincoln County Board of Education could vote on the issue once and for all this month.

During an April 18 working session, Superintendent Michael Rowe posed the question to board members and each was given time to share their opinions.

“Do we keep McKinney Elementary School open, or do we close it? If it remains open, how much money is the board willing to spend from the general fund for possible repairs, or somewhere down the line, possible upgrades?” Rowe asked.

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Board member Win Smith said he has been a resident of Lincoln County for 22 years but has spent a great deal of his time working outside of the school district.

“Coming in from an outside opinion, a couple things that I’ve noticed…small schools are not going to be supported by the state, and that’s just reality. Financially, it’s just not going to happen,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, the enrollment at McKinney is extremely low, in order to keep the building open.

We already have several buildings that are not going to have bonding potential, which means the state is not going to support us borrowing money to repair or make progress on or do upgrades.”

What that means, Smith said, is the money that the district would spend, would have to come out of the general fund.

“…which also means that it would subtract instructional money from other schools within the district, providing its something that was a bond-able issue. That bothers me,” he said. “I’d rather we be in charge of the timeline of McKinney, than it be done to us. I worry about something occurring, building-wise, to that building next year, say in November, and then having to move a bunch of kids to other schools because of that.”

Smith said he also doesn’t want the state to make the decision for the district. McKinney’s current enrollment is 129 students, which fluctuates between 127 to 131 students throughout the year. Rowe added there are about 19 preschool students as well.

“I know I’ve heard some people say, ‘well, smaller classes are more effective.’ That’s true, smaller classes are effective, but smaller schools aren’t,” he said. “We’re in a situation now where we’re going to be having to add some personnel to every school, due to SB 1 (Senate Bill 1) being passed in the legislature this past year. Every school is going to have a counselor…”

The School Board has to make decisions based on every student in the county, Smith said, not just one small group.

“I say that, in that I want the very best educational experiences that students at McKinney Elementary could possibly have from that area. At the same time, I want them to have the best across the board and I don’t want to take away from one to give to the other,” he said.

Board member Ricky Lane said he gathered questions from the public in various areas of the district prior to the meeting.

While Lane agreed the needs of the students are currently being met at McKinney Elementary, he asked if the district was doing anything to raise the bar or set the standard.

“With the few things that I’m involved in, I get to spend a lot of time in other school districts,” Lane said. “I’ll be honest, it’s easy to walk in these other schools and quickly figure out why our kids are leaving Lincoln County and going to other schools.”

Lane said he wants to keep students in Lincoln County and make sure all students across the district are treated the same and have the same opportunities.

One of the biggest concerns Lane heard from the public is what would happen to the students if McKinney Elementary was closed.

If McKinney students were moved to Hustonville Elementary, two outdoor trailers would be needed, according to Rowe, which would house special classes such as art and drama.

“The board could also decide that certain students may be able to go to Waynesburg, or may be able to go to Highland. There’s different options out there,” Rowe said.

As of now, tenured or “classified status” employees would be guaranteed a job, Rowe said.

“For those who don’t have tenure, or don’t have status, regardless if we discuss McKinney right now, we can’t guarantee a job just because some of the jobs are being lost due to numbers, if that makes sense,” Rowe said.

The student-to-teacher ratio would not change, unless the board voted to change that, Rowe added.

On the financial front, McKinney Elementary School’s building is tied into three sets of bonds.

“The 2009 refinanced bond we owe for McKinney $33,655. That matures on Dec. 1, 2020. The second one is a 2012 bond, the amount for McKinney is $60,848 (and) that will mature on May 1, 2022. The last one is a refinanced bond from 2014 in the amount of $95,500. The mature date for that is June 1, 2030,” Rowe said. “The grand total is $190,003.”

Rowe said he spoke to the bonding agent and was assured the district cannot pay off any of the bonds ahead of schedule.

“So, regardless of what we do, there’s going to be money bonded towards that facility until 2030,” Lane said.

The additional travel time for McKinney students, if they were to move to Hustonville Elementary, was also a concern, according to Lane’s list of questions.

“According to Google Maps…if we use Route 1562, which I don’t know if buses would use that or not, the travel distance between Hustonville and McKinney is 6.4 miles and according to Google Maps the travel time is eight minutes,” Rowe said. “If you look at using Kentucky (Highway) 78, the distance between the two schools is 5.9 miles and travel time is 12 minutes. Of course buses may need more time…”

School board member Alan Hubble said that’s the travel time from school to school but doesn’t include the bus stops.
The total operating cost for McKinney Elementary, which includes administrative, classified and certified salaries, as well as preschool and grant funds, is $968,898.70, Rowe said.

Lane asked what the board could do with the potential savings from closing McKinney Elementary.

Rowe said at the high school level, the district could cover the cost of the Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

“We have a lot of students who just can’t afford that large amount,” Rowe said. ’That’s something I would like to see, that we would be able to continue.”

The state will no longer be paying students the $100 incentive to pass AP exams, Rowe added, which is something he’d like the district to be able to continue.

“One thing that the students had brought up when we were talking about our board goals and activities was maybe being able to pay for at least one dual-credit class for each student per school year, or maybe once per semester, if it allowed us,” Rowe said. “Dual-credit hour is a new thing that is very beneficial for our kids because they’re taking classes in their normal classrooms and getting college credit for that.”

Rowe said students also suggested the district cover the cost for teachers to return to school to complete their educational requirements.

“We currently don’t have a lot of our teachers who have the required at least 18 hours in the area, in graduate level courses, of what they teach,” Rowe said. “(Students asked) could we maybe pay for a class per semester for a teacher, or reimburse them, I should say, go on to college and get that, that way they can come back and have them be able to teach for our kids.”

If that’s something the district decided to do, Rowe said he would like to see some kind of contract that says the teacher will have to stay here and teach so many years to help pay that cost back, or pay back the amount.

Mental health counselors are something else that could be funded additionally, Rowe added.

“Unfortunately, with the drug epidemic we’re facing across the United States, we have students who are coming into the school system with different emotional areas of concern that we’ve not seen in the past,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see that getting better any time soon.”

An additional agriculture teacher at the high school was another possibility mentioned.

“These are just some things I’ve written down off the top of my head in the last couple of days,” Rowe said. “I can brainstorm more with our Chief Operating Officer and our Chief Academic Officer and of course, different stakeholders, but there’s many more things we could provide for our kids if we had additional funds from this or something else.”

Chairman Tom Blankenship commended Rowe for suggesting so many student-oriented options.

“If we’re talking about combining programs in an effort to help the elementary (schools) be better, and if there’s a possibility that we’re going to close McKinney, I would like to see us raise the bar, as Ricky (Lane) said with regards to program in the elementary (schools),” Smith said.

Board member Alan Hubble said his biggest concern is the fact that McKinney’s district has zero representation at this time.

With Theresa Long resigning last month, a replacement board member must be appointed by the state within 90 days of the March 12 resignation.

“I understand about doing something before the next school year, or before something happens, but we never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’m going to wake up in the morning. We don’t know that Hustonville’s not going to catch on fire and we have to have McKinney to use for a school,” Hubble said. “We’re going to be paying on it until 2030. I know we can’t keep it open until 2030…if we’re going to have to pay some money on the building as it is anyhow…”

Hubble said he understands the building is in need of a lot of things.

“But who says it’s in any worse shape than the rest of the schools that we have in the county? I’ll have to say I’ve been in all of them, except I can say I’ve not been in Hustonville,” he said.

The school is basically all that’s left of the McKinney community, Hubble said.

“It’s a known fact…when you lose your school, you lose your sense of identity, and things just keep drying up,” he said. “…I guess I’m back to the point of, I understand it’s got to happen at some point in time, but why the sudden push that it has to be done right now?

Hubble said he would like to see McKinney represented on the School Board before a decision is made.

Rowe said he is asking the board to considering making a decision at the next regular meeting on May 9.

Hubble suggested conducting a survey across the district staff so they can make comments and express concerns about the topic without fear of reprimand. Rowe and the other board members said said they supported the suggestion. Smith recommended the district use a third-party to conduct the surveys so nothing is skewed.

“I think we owe it to our stakeholders to make (a decision). We don’t need to be having this year in and year out,” Rowe said. “This is just finishing up my third year (and) this has been going on long before I got here, but i think we need to make a decision and let the people know. I know just for the faculty alone, having year in and year out worrying about if we’re going to close or not, I think we need to make a decision. Whatever that decision may be, we’ll all live with it, and we’ll make a plan to make it work. It’s time to make a decision, we can’t continue to kick the can.”

The Lincoln County Board of Education will hold a regular monthly meeting May 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lincoln County High School auditorium.