Letcher County Board of Education Chairman Will Smith told a group of concerned parents from Arlie Boggs Elementary School at Monday night’s board meeting that the Eolia school will remain open next school year.
“I can assure you that your school will not be closed for the 2010-11 school year,” said Smith. “It will not be put on the agenda to be closed.”
The group of at least 10 parents voiced concern about the future of the small school with an enrollment of 135 students. Concern for the school’s existence lingered after a community meeting was held March 29 at the ABES gymnasium in which a couple hundred people listened to Supt. Anna Craft and Pupil Personnel Director Kenny Cornett speak about the declining enrollment.
“And I’ve told everybody when we met with them at Arlie Boggs at the community meeting that I had not put it on any board agenda,” said Craft. “It had not been recommended. It had not been voted on. It simply (was) to inform the community that we had seen danger signals and numbers had come down.”
Craft said she didn’t mean for the community to take it as “a done deal” that the school was closing.
“It was not intended in that way,” said Craft. “This was the year to alert you and your community that we are in danger. Eventually the economic realities set in. We are losing students. We are down to 3,200 students in Letcher County.”
Smith said he became concerned when he started looking at numbers.
“This board is going to do what is best for the kids,” said Smith. “And once you get down to under 200 students it becomes a drain on the school system on the budget. That’s one of the things the board has to be concerned about.”
“Being referred to as a drain on the system, this isn’t numbers this is children,” said Amy Sexton, who has a daughter in the fifth-grade class at ABES. “I think this is what the community wants the board to understand.”
Sexton asked what the future looks like for the school.
“We don’t know,” said Smith. “ We have to wait to see what the future looks like. I can’t predict the future. The future is cloudy with everything that is going on in the economy and the state budget.”
Craft urged community members to continue to encourage parents to send students to ABES instead of attending schools in other districts. Craft said 16 students signed up during kindergarten registration on April 19.
“We can’t afford to lose many more students and have a viable school,” said Craft. “Help keep kids in your school or we will be in danger. I hope we have a great big enrollment. That would tickle me to death. It doesn’t mean that we have ill feelings toward Arlie Boggs.”
Ronnie Maggard, a concerned parent, told the board the school building is in great need of repairs.
“It’s obvious that the building at Arlie Boggs isn’t the greatest,” said Maggard. “That’s the reason a lot of people aren’t coming to Arlie Boggs.”
Smith said it would be hard to get approval from the Kentucky Department of Education on a building project for a school that serves less than 150 students. He said building construction projects are usually approved for elementary schools with a minimum of 350 students.
Tammy Bullock, a Lewis Creek resident who attended Arlie Boggs as a child, asked the board what needs to happen to keep the school open.
“What we would really like is to be able as a community of Arlie Boggs to be able to sit down with you and talk about what goals we need to meet for next year so we know where our target is,” said Bullock.
“I’ll be glad to meet with you all later in the year,” said Craft. “We will look at it when school ends and let you know where your numbers are.”
Sexton said she will not send her young child across Pine Mountain every day.
“Because of that school’s location, I will do everything in my power to keep that school open,” said Board Member Terry Cornett.
Craft said Pine Mountain isn’t the only mountain in the county, but that it is the most notorious and most famous.
“I don’t blame you a bit,” said Craft. “I hope we can keep it open. Because if we lose many more, teacherwise it isn’t good.
Craft said enrollment at ABES needs to stay at 135 to keep the school the way it is now.
“We need to go above that,” said Craft.
The board also heard from Erica Scott, who has a child attending Letcher Elementary School. She requested that the board change Defeated Creek from Cowan Elementary School’s district to Letcher Elementary School’s district.
“We would like to see this happen,” said Scott. “They like it over at Letcher. Their friends are over there.”
Terry Cornett said when Kingdom Come Elementary School closed at the end of the 2007 school year, students were given the option of going to Cowan or Letcher. Most students chose Cowan.
Scott said her child wasn’t in school at that time and there are a few other children who are in the same situation.
“That has come up at the transportation committee meeting,” said Twyla Messer, assistant superintendent. “We haven’t ruled it in or ruled it out.”
Messer said the transportation committee will have a meeting at the end of the year and then will bring recommendations to the board.
Terry Cornett asked that the transportation committee bring recommendations at the May board meeting.
In other business, Messer said Dave Young, one of two maintenance employees with the county school system who was seriously injured March 30 in a gas explosion on the grounds of Letcher County Central High School, has returned to work. Messer said Tim Miller, the other man who was injured, has not returned to work yet. She said he will need to have some physical therapy on his arms but that skin graphs are necessary.
“He is doing wonderful,” said Craft.
Miller was working in a manhole where water gathers as a byproduct of the HVAC system’s steam boiler, and unplugged a pump which caused a spark and ignited gas located in the manhole.
Kenny Cornett, director of pupil personnel, said despite all of the days missed because of inclement weather and illnesses, as of Monday the district had an attendance rate of 91.51 percent.
“This is remarkable,” said Cornett. “This last month most schools have done well.”
Cornett said June 8 is the last day of school for students and the last day for teachers varies with each school, depending on how many extra days each school has missed. Cornett said schools missing more than one extra day will have a teacher work day on Election Day, which is May 18.
The board also:
• named Lillian Roark, lunchroom manager at Letcher Elementary School, employee of the month.
• approved several out-of-state trips. Martha Jane Potter Elementary School’s eighth-grade class will travel to Charleston, S.C. on June 2. Cowan Elementary School’s eighth-grade class will visit Sevierville, Tenn. April 30 and May 1. Whitesburg Middle School’s eighth-grade class will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio on June 4. Arlie Boggs Elementary School’s eighth-grade class will go to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. May 25.
West Whitesburg Elementary School’s preschool class will visit the Hands On Museum in Johnson City, Tenn. on May 6. A class from Cowan Elementary School will travel to Bays Mt. Park in Kingsport, Tenn. on May 7.
Bands from Martha Jane Potter and Arlie Boggs elementary schools have a trip planned to go to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. on May 27. The sixth-grade class at Whitesburg Middle School will travel to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. on June 7.
• approved three overnight trips. Letcher County Central High School will compete in a state History Day competition in Frankfort on May 7 and May 8. Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) students will participate in a state event in Lexington on May 10 and 11. ROTC students will participate in a cadet leadership challenge in Richmond May 29 through June 2.
• approved the 2010-2011 school calendar. School will begin for teachers on Aug. 5. Students will begin the school year on Aug. 9. School will be closed Sept. 6 for Labor Day, Oct. 8 for UKREA, Oct. 11 for a teacher professional development day and Nov. 9 for Election Day. School will be closed Nov. 24–26 for Thanksgiving.
Dec. 22 will be the last day for students before Christmas break begins. The new semester starts Jan. 3. School will also be closed on Jan. 17 for Martin Luther King Day.
Spring break is set for April 4 and 5. School will be closed April 6–8 for a staff conference for Kentucky Education Association. April 4-8 are designated as make-up days in the calendar and can be changed to school days if needed.
The last day of school for students is set for May 10.
• approved three retirements as presented in the personnel report. Ricky Adams, a teacher at LCCHS, Shirley Bentley, a teacher at West Whitesburg Elementary School, and Sarah Oakes a kindergarten teacher at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School, recently presented their intent to retire.
The board also approved the resignation of Sandra Hall, an extra service PEP (Physical Education Program) coordinator at Letcher Elementary School.