It was a 3-2 vote, with board chairman Gary Farmer making the motion and Brenda Henson offering the second. Myra Mosley, who served on the facilities committee which drafted the plan, also voted for the proposal with Clover Fork representative Arlene Brown and Tri-City representative Pam Sherman Sheffield voting no.
Attendance for Tuesday night's school board public hearing on consolidation was down compared to other past meetings where the issue was debated, but where numbers lacked, fortitude compensated. Both anti-consolidationists and those who favor a centralized high school once again spoke strongly on the larger curriculum of a consolidated school or the importance of keeping community-based schools. Yet, no matter how many times the old points were rehashed, and despite a personal plea from former board member David Kennedy to rethink the facts, the minds of the five board members were not changed and the predicted 3-2 vote carried.
It was Harlan attorney Otis Doan's time behind the speaker's podium that generated most of the night's applause from anti-consolidationists.
"I can't believe educated people in Harlan County can't make a decision without the state telling them what to do," Doan said, in reference to the state department of education's $13.6 million offer to consolidate. "Show me one big building where good things happen ... Harlan County has produced doctors, lawyers and professors from little bitty schools with broken down doors and so forth."
Doan's involvement in Tuesday night's public forum was explained after the meeting commenced. He confirmed he had been retained by a group that's calling themselves "Citizens For A Better Education" to question the legality of several actions that have been taken by the school board and the district's facilities committee during recent months. He said he was questioning the formation of the facilities committee as well as the school board's decision to hold a public forum on a consolidated-based plan when the committee was not able to obtain a two-thirds majority.
Farmer said during a previous school board meeting he believed a two-thirds majority could never be obtained and made a motion for the board to adopt the plan and to petition the state to waive the two-thirds majority regulation.
"We're looking into the legality of the way they've done things," Doan said. "They just side-step everything."
Doan declined to comment on the details pertaining to his legal inquiries, but did say it would be up to the state whether or not a suit is filed.
"We're going to see what happens tomorrow night," he said. "There might not be any reason to take any action. We'll just have to wait and see."
Doan was referring to tonight's state public forum in which representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education will be present to hear the community's concerns.
During his extended time on the floor, Kennedy also hinted of legal action.
"We fully intend on challenging you in court every step of the way if you approve this plan," Kennedy told board members. "We're not going to lose our high schools at Cumberland and Evarts. We're going to fight you all and the state department of education until hell freezes over."
Kennedy spoke directly to each board member who's vote leaned toward consolidation. He said Farmer previously told him that closing Cumberland Middle School would be the best way to save the high school.
"I thought you were a man of your word?" Kennedy asked.
To Mosley, he said "You told me you would never agree to consolidation because of your experience at Cawood High School."
And to Henson he said "There's no need to talk to you because you're hung up in concrete."
Before his time was up, Kennedy asked board members to submit the facilities committee's previous plan which called for the retention of Cumberland and Evarts high schools and a new high school for students currently attending Cawood.
He also opened up another disputed topic by asking them if they knew how much the county school district was in debt. The question, which received no response from the board members, was later picked up by Doan.
"I tell you how much you all are in debt. It's $20 million," Doan said. "Why don't you talk about repaying that before you get into building a new high school?"
Doan said a new school would increase tax rates for Harlan Countians.
Gary Hensley, assistant superintendent in charge of finance, agreed Doan's $20 million statement was a fair estimate, but added the district didn't use all tax revenue to pay the bills.
"A lot's paid out of state funding," Hensley said. "With the state's $13.6 (million) offer, there is no reason for a tax increase. We don't have to pay it back. The state pays it back...There's no way it effects our tax base. It just gives us $13.6 million. It's that simple."
Frank Smith, who served as chair of the facilities planning committee, steered the attention away from dollars and buildings and back to the needs of the county's students when he addressed board members. He said contrary to what many think, the proposed facilities plan was not about consolidation.
"First and foremost it is about what we are currently offering the students of Harlan County and whether or not we're doing the best we can to prepare them for life after high school," Smith said.
He handed out several papers to board members which showed how Harlan compared to other counties curriculum wise.
"It takes about that long (he snaps his fingers) to see that we compare miserably to those schools," Smith said. "Can we continue to operate three high schools and ever hope to compete on the level of those schools?"
Smith also submitted a letter he received from Fayette County Interim Schools Superintendent L. Duane Tennant which refuted a statement made by Kennedy during his speech. Kennedy had said "If bigger is better, then why is the Fayette County Board of Education trying to deconsolidate. Why are they trying to make a giant-sized high school smaller?"
In Smith's letter, Tennant explained his district was given a grant to study ways to organize high school student bodies into smaller groups.
"While each high school may propose different ways to implement smaller learning communities, the student body will remain the same," Tennant wrote. "We are presently making plans for a new Bryan Station School to accommodate about 1,800 students. In short, Fayette County Public Schools are not deconsolidating our high schools. We are studying ways to organize students into different learning groups,"
The state's public hearing regarding the district's facilities plan will be held tonight at James A. Cawood High School beginning at 6.