Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 16, 2013

Blaine and Fallsburg schools to keep middle grades

Mike James
The Independent

LOUISA — Grades six through eight at Fallsburg and Blaine elementary schools will stay where they are rather than moving to Lawrence County Middle School, the district’s top administrator said Wednesday.

The district’s local planning committee had been considering a facilities plan that would make the change, but is unlikely to pursue it following a hearing that revealed wide opposition, said Superintendent Mike Armstrong.

“I don’t think that approach is going to go forward,” Armstrong said in a telephone interview.

A contingent of parents and relatives of children at the two rural elementaries spoke at a public forum that preceded the committee’s meeting Tuesday and called for keeping middle-grades students at the two schools.

Most of them were from the Fallsburg area, said Sandy Caudill, a custodial grandparent whose granddaughter is a third-grader there.

Moving the grades would be a mistake because Fallsburg excels academically and provides sports opportunities children could use if they were sent to the middle school, she said. Also, the school is in fine shape as it is and is a key asset of the community, she said.

“I told them that Fallsburg is the hub of the community, the center of the community,” she said.

Parents fear moving middle grades would be followed by closing the school entirely, she said. They also fear many of the children who play on the Fallsburg and Blaine sports teams would lose such opportunities at the middle school.

The committee had considered the change based on a suggestion of the architectural firm retained to consult on the facilities plan, Armstrong said.

Facilities plans are required to consider, among other things, whether buildings in a district are underused. Based on its size and enrollment, the middle school could absorb the three grades from the two schools, he said.

However, doing so probably wouldn’t make much financial difference, he said. The schools would have the same fixed costs — heating, cooling, transportation and the like — and the district would need the same number of teachers, except at different buildings. “I don’t think there would be any dramatic savings,” he said.

Armstrong believes the district’s main building concern should be the 59-year-old Louisa West Elementary, which the state has designated as transitional. That means the district should consider replacing it. “It’s sound but showing its age,” he said. However, bleak state and local budget outlooks make replacement unlikely in the near future, he said.

The committee is set to meet Oct. 29 and its architectural consultant is expected to present a draft plan then.

Caudill said parents from Fallsburg and Blaine would attend that meeting and future meetings and keep up pressure to protect their schools.