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McCracken board OKs delay in school realignment

BY KATHLEEN FOXkfox@paducahsun.com

The McCracken County Board of Education has accepted a recommendation that will keep all schools open for one more instructional year before realigning students and opening a new intermediate school in the Reidland area.

The board met in a special meeting Thursday night to discuss amendments to the district's facility plan. Superintendent Nancy Waldrop made a motion to accept the recommendation of the local planning committee (LPC) but on a graduated timeline. The board approved the measure with only member Michael Hatton voting against the changes and with member Rick Straub absent.

The committee's plan includes the closing of Farley Elementary School as surplus property, earmarking Reidland Middle School for future district use and reconfiguration of the student structure throughout the Reidland area. Fourth- and fifth-grade students would move along with sixth- through eighth-grade students currently in the middle school to the former high school building. The facility would then be called Reidland Intermediate School but would function as two distinct entities, according to assistant superintendent Heath Cartwright.

The board unanimously approved the timeline that would postpone the opening of Reidland Intermediate School until the 2015-2016 school year. Students at Farley and Reidland elementary schools will remain in the same buildings through the 2014-2015 school year, then be realigned. The only change that will apply to the next school year will be the relocation of middle school students to the newer half of the former Reidland High School building.

The amendments also included shifting of fifth-grade students currently in Heath and Concord elementary schools to Heath Middle School to ease overcrowding issues, applicable for the 2015-2016 school year.

Chairman Jeff Parker emphasized that community and staff input from those in the Reidland area was a critical factor in the decision to delay implementation of the new structure.

During two January public meetings, residents and family members implored the council not to rush any large-scale alterations, often referring to transitional issues at Lone Oak Intermediate School, which opened in fall 2013. Parents at the intermediate school have voiced complaints throughout the year about gaps between window units in classrooms, loose tiles, nonworking elevator lifts and a lack of age-appropriate playground equipment.

"We heard you, when you said slow down, wait or delay it," Parker said. "You spoke and we listened ... it's something that needs to happen but we need to do it right."

Waldrop agreed, adding: "The parents and teachers in Reidland gave us so many heartfelt, well-thought-out comments. It was a wonderful collaborative process because we all want what's best for the children."

The board also approved a revised plan that splits work on the old Reidland High School complex into two distinct phases. The first component includes the more intensive updates to restroom fixtures, heating and air conditioning systems and windows in the older portion of the facility.  It totals about $1.8 million. The second part, primarily minor changes to the newer side including updates to classrooms and installation of security doors to separate the two sides, will cost about $248,000, according to facilities director Todd Jackson.

The amended plan will be sent to the Kentucky Department of Education for approval, then sent back to the board to conduct a final public hearing. The board selected Butch Canty of the Kentucky School Boards Association at a fee of $750 to serve as the hearing officer for the KDE meeting. Canty served as the moderator for both LPC meetings and public forums.

Waldrop said next school year a new LPC will be elected, who along with architectural and engineering consultants, will tour and analyze every building in the district during the fall and winter months before drafting a new facilities priority list.

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

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