Although debated, bidded, tabled and rebid since April, the question of who can claim ownership to the former school was settled during the monthly board meeting. In a 4-1 vote, the city of Loyall came out the winner with a bid substantially less than Harlan-based attorney Russell Alred's $225,010 offer earlier this year.
"It's frustrating, aggravating, and quite frankly, hypocritical," Alred said in a phone interview shortly after the board meeting. "They don't have enough money to save programs, but they can turn down the highest offer? It's a shame. What it all boils down to is that the children of Harlan County lost $100,000."
The city of Loyall has been leasing the former school and operating its government, plus other community programs, from the building. When the board decided earlier this year to sell both Loyall Elementary School and Cumberland Middle School because of liability concerns, Loyall Mayor Charlie Wattenberger was given first option to maintain the building for his city. However, concerns were raised that a bidding process had not been followed. Board member Brenda Henson spoke strongly in favor of accepting higher bids. It was a source of contention between her and board chairman Gary Farmer because of an earlier promise Farmer had apparently made to Wattenberger, allowing the municipality the first opportunity to make a purchase.
"That wasn't yours to make," Henson told Farmer in an earlier meeting, referring to the promise he'd made.
Henson was the only dissenting voter Tuesday night when the motion to accept the city of Loyall's bid was made and seconded. The city presented the only bid after the latest advertisement.
"I feel like we should have gone with the highest bidder," Henson said. "We are a business, and this matter is very personal to me because we're talking about the children of Harlan County."
Loyall offered $50,000, and a neighboring church is paying $75,000 for a section of the property its members have been interested in utilizing for its ministry. The board accepted the church's request at last month's meeting. Gary Hensley, superintendent in charge of finance for the Harlan County School District, said the two offers equaled a $125,000 profit for the system. That's $100,000 less, however, than what Alred was prepared to offer.
""I'm more disappointed than angry," Alred said. "I'm disappointed with the school board for turning down $100,000 that our students could use. I don't see how they can justify that?"
Alred had hoped to establish a television close captioning business within the school, as well as a DNA lab. He also committed to allowing current community programs, like the Harlan County Boys and Girls Club, to continue operating out of the building and to sell the portion in which the church was interested for a lesser amount.
"What a blow to Harlan County," Alred continued. "I was going to funnel money through that building back into the community, but the only thing I see going through that building in about five more years is a wrecking ball."
Wattenberger, who was "tickled to death" with the board's decision, said a private entity shouldn't claim ownership of the structure.
"It's all sour grapes," Wattenberger replied. "He (Alred) said he wanted to funnel money through the building, but I wonder, whose pocket would the money be going into? Would it go into his pocket or the community's? This building was once upon a time maintained by taxpayers' money, and it should be returned to the public."
Besides city government, programs currently operating out of the building are Harlan County Works (a GED and computer skills training office), the Harlan County Boys and Girls Club, a day care and various community activities such as folk dancing, karate lessons and Jazzercise. Wattenberger said city ownership would in no way displace the programs. He also confirmed that payment for the $50,000 bid will come from a recently procured coal severance tax grant.
As Wattenberger was completing the paperwork necessary for grant funding, Alred has also been taking care of some business. He contacted the Office of Educational Accountability concerning his declined high bid and said he had been notified that an investigator would be looking into the matter.
The Cumberland Middle School bid was awarded to Cumberland resident Steve Simpson, who offered $26,000. The assessed value for the building was $75,000.
The board expressed concern with the costs of maintaining both buildings if they weren't sold. Hensley said insurance for a year on the two buildings would cost the district $30,000.
In other school board action:
n Eddie Hensley, a district-wide computer information technology instructor, updated the board on classes that will be offered in the upcoming school year and the program's benefits;
n Opening day for the Harlan County School District was announced as Aug. 5. Classes will begin on Aug. 6;
n Harlan County Schools Superintendent Tim Saylor updated the public on his tours of consolidated schools and that information was being collected and studied. The tours are a part of the district's plans to build a new Wallins Elementary School and a new consolidated high school. Saylor said the next tour will take place in Rockcastle County on July 17;
n Saylor gave a Power Point presentation concerning the district's attendance problems. He made several suggestions on how the growing number of absentees can be reduced;
n Approved the naming of the Wallins Elementary School gymnasium in honor of former assistant coach and volunteer Billy Joe Simpson, who recently died. The agenda item was brought to the table by Farmer, who was too emotional to continue. Saylor took over for Farmer, talking highly about the man who he said "done so much for our schools. He helped so many kids." A dedication ceremony will be held during the school's first home basketball game;
n The second reading and adoption of the Kentucky School Board Association Policy No. 26 was made;
n Saylor briefly discussed the district's code of acceptable behavior and discipline, and reminded board members that the code did address hazing. Saylor brought up the issue because of recent nationwide occurrences. "It's my understanding that some of this is going on right now" (in our district), he said.
n Approval was granted for WTUK Radio to hold live remotes at county schools Aug. 11-15;
n Approval was given for Harlan County Transportation Director Joan Anderson to purchase cameras and VCR units to be installed on school buses due to rising discipline problems;
n Approved an easement for Harlan Comp Care to dig water and sewer lines for an 11-unit apartment complex that will be located behind the visitor's side bleachers at James A. Cawood High School's football field;
n An emergency declaration was made for the Wallins Elementary School sewer line replacement project, and a $24,300 quote was accepted.