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Cuba Elementary School sale delayed

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Cuba Elementary School will not be sold June 18 as originally planned.

The Graves County school, located south of Mayfield and serving about 150 students, has been the subject of possible closure over the past school year. A hearing was held Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court, where a group of nearby residents was successful in having the June 18 auction postponed.

The plaintiffs, Graves County residents Josh Cherry, William Bell, Richard Jackson and Larry Dale Shelby, filed for injunctive relief April 1 to delay the school auction for more time to prepare their case. The group is arguing the Graves County Board of Education did not follow proper procedure when it decided to close and auction the property.

The group now has until June 18 to file summary judgment motions before the next set hearing date on June 27.

David Hargrove, attorney for the Graves County Board of Education, said he anticipates the case will be decided June 27. He said Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd recognized the decision needs to be made soon in order to address the district's needs. The board is pushing to hold the sale as soon as possible because it would like the school costs off its budget this summer.

Hargrove said the board agreed to hold a special meeting Thursday night to set a new auction date, which will likely be July 2.

William Bell, one of the plaintiffs whose children attended Cuba Elementary School, said he thinks the school has been neglected.

"We think that they (the board) have spent money in other areas that they could have spent on the school and maintaining it," he said. "There's no reason to shut it down."

Josh Cherry, who has a son who just completed kindergarten there, said the postponement of the auction date is what the group was seeking at Wednesday's hearing.

Cherry explained one of the issues the group has with the way the school closure was handled was the change to the school's classification as a transitional facility through a "finding process" that details minor changes. The process is not a minor change, the group argues, because it affects more than the one facility, Cherry said. He said the transition will also affect other schools which would take the relocated students.

"There are certain laws and procedures that they have to follow, and we don't believe they did," he continued.

He said Cuba students are set to be transferred to two area schools; some will go to Wingo and others to Sedalia. His son will attend Wingo.

Cuba Elementary School was ranked as one of the top public elementary schools in the state in 2013, Cherry said, which is one reason why parents are so concerned.

"We're trying to get our kids the best education possible," he added.

The group's attorney, James L. Deckard of Hurt, Crosbie & May of Lexington, said Wednesday's hearing gave the group more time to make its case.

"It's a temporary win, with more briefing to come," he said. "It was clear that the board was trying to move too quickly to sell the school before the case could be resolved. This puts the brakes on the school board."

Hargrove said a quick decision will be beneficial to both parties in order to address the needs of the district for the upcoming school year.

"Rescheduling (the auction) for down the road doesn't hurt anyone, but, in the long run, this is good for everyone," Hargrove stated. He said the board denies the claim it did not follow procedure in transitioning the school.

"That is part of what (the judge) will address at the hearing on the 27th," he said.

He maintains the board was more transparent than it had to be.

"Certainly, from the school board's perspective, they really didn't have to do it the way they did, but they wanted to be open ... (the closure) had been talked about for five years. They didn't want anyone to think this is something they were doing behind closed doors."

He said the Kentucky Department of Education consulted with the board and worked with them through the closure process.

He understands, though, why parents are concerned over their local school closing.

"The board did not do this without some pretty serious thought," he said.

The county district had a budget crisis a few years ago that presented the need for "tremendous cuts," Hargrove said. In the fall, a referendum that would allow the district to bring in additional tax revenues failed, which led the board to its 4-1 vote to close Cuba Elementary as a cost-saving measure. The closure is projected to save the district about $375,000 a year.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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