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Panel alters county school options

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

Following a public forum where many parents voiced displeasure with the options put forth by the district's Local Planning Committee, the group tweaked the selections.

The 20-member LPC met Tuesday night in the first of two forums to debate amending the schools facilities plan. Heath Cartwright, assistant superintendent and committee member, presented four options for changes in the Reidland area and two in the Heath area. He listed the factors as maximum capacity, number of students per classroom and costs associated each building.

Each of the four options presented during the meeting included using a two-school system in the Reidland area, with the closure of Farley Elementary School and the exclusion of Reidland Middle School. The plans in the Reidland area take into consideration the possible future sale of the board office and movement into the middle school building.

Board and LPC committee member Rick Straub said the benefits of such a move include better use of existing property, financial gain by the sale of the current board office property and a centralized, connected location to better serve the needs of the schools. Although there is no immediate plans or timetable, he said the move could be accomplished quickly due to the minimal number of necessary renovations.

After more than an hour of pleas from families, mostly from the Reidland area, several choices were removed and an additional option was added. The council added a choice to maintain the current school structure, with Farley Elementary School remaining open, students remaining at Reidland Elementary School, and sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders moving into the old Reidland High School building that the board is in the beginning stages of renovating.

The council added the option unanimously at the request of Reidland Elementary School principal Randy Layne and plans to research the viability with the Kentucky Department of Education of keeping a three-building structure in Reidland, according to Straub.

The board also deleted the two selections that would require moving the third-grade from the elementary school into the old high school building with the fourth through eighth grades. Three options remain in consideration for Reidland including keeping Farley Elementary open and moving Reidland Middle School into the old high school and two plans to close Farley Elementary, keep third-grade at the elementary school and move fourth- and fifth-graders to the old high school building.

The group felt strongly about keeping the third-grade in a primary school unit along with the preschool, first and second grades, according to Straub.

The two latter plans differ in where the fourth- and fifth-grade students would be located in the building. One plan would put the two classes on one hallway with sixth through eighth graders in a different hallway. Another idea would put the fourth and fifth-grade in a more separate hallway in the Reidland Middle building, not needed in plans for district office use.

The potential school closure is a result of declining enrollment in each of the three affected schools, according to Russ Tilford, director of pupil personnel. He said in the past five years, enrollment has dropped by 94 students at Farley Elementary School, 116 at Reidland Elementary School and 67 at Reidland Middle School. Each of the three schools costs an estimated $137,000 to $175,000 in operational building-related costs per year.

One of the main components of the action plans, according to the committee, is the feasibility of converting the previous high school building into two distinct spaces for two age ranges. The configuration would include separate entrances, administration offices and libraries in the horseshoe-shaped building, according to Superintendent Nancy Waldrop.

The council also decided on the no-action option for Heath schools, which would delay a decision until next year over an option to move the fifth grades at Heath and Concord Elementary schools to the building with sixth- through eighth-graders. Issues for the student population in the Heath area revolve around overcrowding due to increasing enrollment at both elementary schools. Concord principal Ginger Hollowell and Heath Elementary principal Tim Adams, members of the committee, favored "wait and see" approach.

Straub said the group felt strongly that the focus should be on the Reidland schools and that decision has to be made soon to allow for adequate time to develop or tweak curriculum at the schools.

The board will hold another public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the board office before meeting and making a decision. The school board will then need to approve the changes before sending the proposal to the Kentucky Department of Education for approval, according to Butch Canty of the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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