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Committee urges Farley closure

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

A marathon meeting filled with pleas and tears from the community and a heated discussion among members of the district's planning committee returned the recommendation to close Farley Elementary School and realign students in the Reidland area.

The district 20-member LPC - composed of district staff, school officials and members of administration as well as parents and community members - held a second public forum Tuesday. The committee began discussing the facilities plan and heard the first round of public comment on Jan. 7. The council examined three options narrowed during the previous meeting that would slightly or significantly alter the structure of the school system in the Reidland area.

The meeting Tuesday began with a public forum with thoughts from about 15 members of the community. Each speaker voiced displeasure with the action plans, citing issues with the current intermediate school structure in Lone Oak, a rushed pace for the two-week decision period, the change in district leadership this summer when Superintendent Nancy Waldrop retires, and questions about the feasibility of combining fourth and fifth graders with middle school age students.

The crowd asked the committee to delay the decision for one year as a new LPC will be elected. After some discussion, the group voted on a no-action measure put forward by member Jill Wilcox, which would allow Farley to remain open. She said the measure would allow the district to focus on refining the issues at Lone Oak Intermediate School. The motion was defeated in a 7-10 vote, with two members absent. Heath Cartwright as the superintendent's designee doesn't vote.

The option to close Farley Elementary School and move fourth and fifth grade students into the former sixth grade hallway at Reidland Middle School was then asked to be dismissed by Reidland Elementary School principal Randy Layne due to problems with the space.

The committee then addressed the selection that would close Farley Elementary and move fourth- and fifth-graders to the former high school building. The plan would separate the younger classes and the sixth through eighth graders in two distinct sections of the building.

The board discussed the feasibility of maintaining separate spaces for two distinct age groups with the same building facility including separate entrances, administration offices and libraries. Todd Jackson, McCracken County facilities director, presented a preliminary plan of how the building could be divided through the use of locking doors and the division of the library into two spaces to accommodate additional offices.

The board approved the BG1 plans earlier this month for work to the older part of the school building, which includes updates to the restroom fixtures, windows and replacement of the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) window units for a price of $1,920,000. Jackson said to separate the school into two spaces would add another $2 million to that estimate. Several council members along with Farley principal Paula Grubbs and Reidland Middle School principal Susan Nelson visited a Murray Independent school that has fourth through eighth grades in one school and reported it was a success.

The committee voted 15-2 to approve that option and recommend the closure of Farley as a surplus property. Members of the group pointed to declining enrollment and the current number of unused buildings throughout the district. Waldrop said the district will save about $550,000 in utility costs per year and that money can be used for staff raises or other district needs.

"We would have supported any decision the committee made," Waldrop said. "They have given us our assignment and now we will get to work."

The next step will be receiving school board approval. Waldrop was unsure if an addendum can be added to the meeting scheduled for today or would have to wait.

If the board approves the measure it will be sent to the Kentucky Department of Education, then if approved sent back to the board. If the plan is rejected at any level, the LPC will have to reconvene and select another alternative. A recorded public hearing will be held before the board votes a second time.

The changes would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year if the renovations of the former Reidland High School have to be completed.

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

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