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Editorial - McPheeters Bend and Keplar are on borrowed time

• Aug 9, 2019 at 6:00 PM

It was the wrong thing for the right reasons.

In reversing its vote to bus two grades from Keplar Elementary this school year, the Hawkins County Board of Education compensates for failure to properly notify residents of a pending vote to bus the students. The board is to be commended for reversing itself, a tough decision given that it continues to waste scarce tax dollars. But it was necessary to restore confidence.

On the other hand, it requires spending $120,000 to replace two teaching positions necessary to keep 38 students in grades four and five at Keplar, rather than bus them to Rogersville Elementary where they would have been absorbed. That’s money down the drain, as would be a proposal to do a district-wide spending audit to provide cover to close Keplar and possibly McPheeters Bend Elementary.

The audit would be presented at the January 2020 board meeting, and the board would make any decisions based on it by March of next year, providing time to prepare for any potential changes.

Why must the district hire an outside consultant to do what it should be capable of doing, which is to examine spending in every department in every school including the central office, “with a particular emphasis on per-pupil spending,” Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the board. “If we are serious about identifying possible long-term savings and ensuring equitable spending across the district, I recommend we take this step.”

The focus on per-pupil spending would only demonstrate what is already known to the board, to residents of the district who fund all county schools, and particularly to parents at Keplar and McPheeters Bend, where aging schools are in need of millions of dollars in repairs, which wouldn’t even update them to accommodate modern educational methods. These schools with a relative handful of students are operating at a teacher-student ratio that cannot be justified.

A consulting structural engineer told the board last year that more repairs than just a new roof are in order at Keplar, built 70 years ago. Several million dollars would be necessary, and even if good money was thrown after bad, students would have to be bused elsewhere as repairs were being made.

Given the county’s financial situation, Keplar and McPheeters Bend should be closed. Emotions say otherwise, but fiscal responsibility clearly indicates a “CLOSED” sign is in order. A study isn’t necessary. The board has been tossing this decision around for too many years when it and parents at both schools know they’re on borrowed time.

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