McMahan: Uphold the veto

Published 8:21 am Thursday, July 31, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks Carter County Board of Education member Jerry McMahan, shown speaking during a 2013 school board workshop, is calling on the County Commission to uphold the mayor's veto of the budget, saying plans for a new middle school are moving too swiftly.

Photo by Brandon Hicks
Carter County Board of Education member Jerry McMahan, shown speaking during a 2013 school board workshop, is calling on the County Commission to uphold the mayor’s veto of the budget, saying plans for a new middle school are moving too swiftly.

A Carter County Board of Education member is urging members of the County Commission not to overturn the recent mayoral veto of the county budget, citing his concerns that a proposed school project is advancing too quickly.
Jerry McMahan, who represents the 7th district on the board, said he also has fears about county’s financial solvency and tried to be placed on the agenda for this morning’s Commission meeting.
That request was denied.
“I was told they were not going to let anyone speak because it was a special called meeting,” McMahan said. After he was refused the opportunity to be placed on the agenda, McMahan said he then attempted to contact Commission Chairman Tom “Yogi” Bowers but was unsuccessful.
It was then McMahan decided to write a letter to each commissioner and to County Mayor Leon Humphrey voicing his concerns. “I am going about it the only way I know how,” he said.
McMahan said he is concerned about the county’s financial status in terms of the debt service.
“The way the debt service is right now, it would take about 12 cents to make it solvent,” he said. “They have taken from the debt service for the last three years to keep from raising taxes and now the debt service is in bad shape.”
Adding the financial concerns to a school project he said is being rushed creates a major concern for McMahan.
“I don’t think it has been well thought-out and I don’t think it is what we need to be doing right now,” he said. “I think they need to do a comprehensive study to determine the needs of the whole county, not just one community.”
McMahan said he believes the county should use this budget year to get the county in better financial standing while the school system uses the year to evaluate the school system’s needs.
“I think building a middle school at this time is premature since a long range plan hasn’t been approved by the school board as a guide to the overall improvement of Carter County Schools,” McMahan said in his letter to commissioners. “The expenditure of between $500,000 to $800,000 for designing and $16 million for the construction is not feasible unless it fits into an overall plan to improve the educational situation for all the students in the Carter County School System.”
McMahan said he feels the project, as it is being discussed now, does not consider the needs of the overall system or the financial needs of the county.
“The middle school that is being proposed does not provide for a reduction of the tax burden and does not consider the overall school system,” he wrote. “The middle school would only continue the same management practices that have been used in the past.
“Past approaches to education planning” won’t be effective when dealing with “the pressures of modern society,” McMahan added. “A comprehensive long-range plan must be developed that affords a more economical school system.”
McMahan closed his letter to the commissioners with a plea for them to reject the budget which they passed earlier this month.
“Please vote against a budget that is not beneficial to the school system or the citizens of Carter County,” McMahan said in the letter. “The School Board should take the time necessary and adopt a comprehensive long range reconstruction plan as a guide for developing a school system that is the envy of all small school systems.”
“If ‘Unaka Middle School’ is built, it should fit the comprehensive long plan,” he said. “Through careful study and proper guidance, Carter County has the necessary resources to build a school system that will educate the students for the future and aid to bring business and industry to the area.”
McMahan chaired the school system’s Long Range Facilities Planning Commission, which in 2012 researched the possibility of reducing the number of schools in the county. In brief, the plan recommended reducing the number of elementary schools to five, each teaching kindergarten through fifth grade. It also recommended building a new, centrally located high school for all the county’s ninth- through 12th-grade students, while converting three existing high schools – Hampton, Happy Valley, and Unaka – into middle schools that would teach sixth- through eighth-graders.
McMahan expressed his displeasure to the Star on Wednesday at not being allowed to address the commission at the meeting and having to resort to writing a letter to have his concerns reach the commissioners.
“I don’t think they allow the citizens of this county to speak to the commission they way they ought to,” McMahan said. “I take exception to people trying to conduct business this way. They are trying to push our freedoms aside so they can do what they want.
“There have been too many people who have served our country and died for our freedoms to allow a bunch of county commissioners to say you can’t talk to them,” he added.

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