Members of the Harlan County Schools Facilities Planning Committee voted by a narrow margin Monday in favor of pursuing land for a new high school. However, the retention of Evarts and Cumberland high schools as permanent education centers was also agreed upon, but according to committee member Roy Silver, the action is a prelude to countywide consolidation.
"The ground work is being laid for a central high school," Silver said after Monday's five-hour meeting at the central office. "Evarts and Cumberland will receive upgrades, but essentially we're talking about consolidation farther on down the road. They've talked about compromise and meeting in the middle, but where are the sacrifices being made with this option?"
The option, which was labeled number four, was presented to committee members at the beginning of the meeting. State facilitator George Cawood drafted another possibility for consideration after committee members could not agree on a high school facility structure last week.
Option one called for a new, centralized high school. Option 2A called for the continued operation of James A. Cawood High School and the construction of a new high school, and option 2B called for the construction of two new high schools. Option three included the retention of the district's three high schools. After a series of votes were taken last Wednesday and a majority failed to be reached, the committee tabled further discussion until this week.
Cawood presented option four Monday morning and encouraged committee members to think in a visionary manner. While the possibility was studied, debated and picked apart, it eventually passed in a 9-7 vote. Some members were won over by the option's seemingly "middle ground" approach, but staunch anti-consolidationists, like Silver, continued to cast no votes.
Option four calls for a new high school site to be determined, the establishment of Evarts and Cumberland high schools as permanent education centers and to undergo reasonable renovations, major renovations to Rosspoint Elementary School and site purchase for the proposed new high school. The list of capital construction projects are to take place before 2004. Also under option four, unmet needs were listed as renovation work on all elementary schools, which haven't been prioritized by the committee yet, and the construction of a new high school. The unmet needs projects are to take place after 2004 and after the first package of needs have been completed.
Facilities chairman Frank Smith said he felt "very comfortable" with option four, disagreeing with Silver by saying it was "quite a bit of a compromise."
"The only way option four will lead to consolidation is if the county continues as it," Smith said, referring to the decline in economy and population. "And it puts a state-of-the-art facility in place if the need comes for consolidation."
District 2 Magistrate Curt Stallard, who also opposes consolidation, said he saw no difference between option four and option one, and he didn't see how Evarts or Cumberland could benefit from the plan in the long run.
"These schools will just be four years older than they are today," he said.
Evarts Elementary School Principal Harold Madden said one benefit of the option keeps Evarts and Cumberland high schools in their communities on a short-term basis.
"It gives us some breathing room to see where we are in a few more years," Madden said. "But as long as we feel we can support the schools, then we continue to do it."
Madden, however, ended up voting no on option four, along with Silver, Stallard, Evarts High School Principal Wallace Napier, Hall Elementary School Principal Acey Cornett, Alice Davis and Betty Russell. Those voting in favor were Smith, Gayle Jurgens, Scott Caldwell, Stan Nicely, Julie Saylor, Tammy Adams, Sherry Turner, Cumberland High School Principal Ed Clem and school board member Myra Mosley.
When Smith made the motion in favor of option four and a second was given, Napier asked if the vote could be postponed, saying it was a big decision and he would like the chance to "talk to the people." After Smith stressed the importance of staying on schedule and not causing any more delays, the committee agreed to take a 30-minute break before the voting started.
A speedy vote did not take place, though, after the meeting was called back to order. Smith's motion stayed on the table for discussion over an hour before the 9-7 majority vote was obtained. After several hours of wrangling over needs assessments, and finally obtaining a majority vote on one of the options, the committee agreed to call it a day. Prioritizing facility upgrades for the district's elementary schools and reasonable renovations to be made to Evarts and Cumberland high schools will resume March 10 at 10 a.m. in the central office.
While a facilities plan has begun to be drafted, Cawood said nothing was official until a public forum has been held and a two-thirds vote is obtained by the committee. He said a public forum would have to take place no later than March 18.
Smith said if the committee fails to achieve a two-thirds majority vote, then the Harlan County Board of Education would have to request the Kentucky Department of Education for a new facilities committee to be seated.
"And that means a year without a plan and without bonding money," he said.