School Board member’s letter to county commissioners

Published 8:18 am Thursday, July 31, 2014

Carter County Board of Education member Jerry McMahan sent a letter to members of the County Commission asking them not to overturn the mayoral veto of the county budget approved earlier this month. The Elizabethton Star published a story regarding McMahan’s letter and his reasons behind it. Printed below is the letter from McMahan to the commissioners in its entirety.

To: Mayor Humphrey and Carter County Commissioners
From: Jerry McMahan, School Board Member
Date: July 28, 2014
I tried to get on the agenda to address the whole commission and was told by Mrs. Mary Gouge that no one would be allowed to address the commission since it was a special called meeting to vote on the budget after the veto. I made several attempts to contact Mr. Tom Bowers to discuss the possibility of addressing the County Commission during the meeting on July 31st. Mr. Bowers did not answer my calls and his mail box was full. Therefore, I decided to write a letter to the Commissioners and the County mayor to outline my concerns with the budget and the construction of the proposed Unaka Middle School.
My entire life has been spent in military service and education; as a student, teacher, assistant principal, supervisor and school board member. I cannot sit by and observe what is happening without addressing the County Commission and expressing my thoughts concerning the budget and the proposed middle school. Recently, I was the facilitator of a highly educated team of educators and citizens that completed a study on Carter County Schools. The team and I spent many hours gathering information and data influencing the future of education and particularly Carter County Schools. The study looked at all Carter County School System facilities and developed scenarios to improve the entire system. The study team made recommendations that were voted down by the Board of Education without trying to modify the plan. Before we can move forward, we must have a long range plan that has been adopted by the board of education as a guide. Any facility construction should fit within the plan and include the impact on the taxpayers.
In my opinion, before a middle school can be considered, the problems with the debt service must be corrected and county finances stabilized. This budget should be dedicated to ensuring that Carter County is solvent. Focusing on debt service this year would allow the school board time to develop a long range plan and consider alternative methods of providing improved education for the students that takes into consideration the added tax burden on the citizens of Carter County.
I think building a middle school at this time is premature since a long range plan has not been approved by the school board as a guide to the overall improvement of Carter County Schools. 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 education situation for all the students in the Carter County School System. Any long range plan must be comprehensive and reflect the entire school system, tax increases, and potential savings through consolidation and increased teacher pupil ratios. All these factors were considered in the long range plan that was completed in 2012. 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. The middle school would only continue the same management practices that have been used in the past. Carter County Schools are at an era that past approaches to education planning are not effective with dealing with the pressures of modern society. A comprehensive long range plan must be developed that affords a more economical school system.
When considering the advantages and disadvantages of funding the middle school currently, one can readily conclude that Carter County is not ready to move forward with the middle school project.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Funding Middle School this Year:
• Can tie onto Elizabethton water, gas and sewer
• Reduce the number of modular units
• Provide for an educational alignment for grades 5 through 8
• Possibility of closing Unaka Elementary School (the school is poor condition)
• The Debt Service fund must be fully subsidized. Carter County is not financially secure at the present time.
• Carter County Department of Education has not approved a comprehensive long range plan that envisions the future to provide facilities that will be needed to adequately education wholly the student of Carter County.
• The middle school does not “tie into” a comprehensive long range plan.
• The middle school does not support an overall plan fro the entire county. Traditionally schools have been built because of need and “our turn” for a school.
• The location of the middle school does not provide for adequate parking for the athletic events that are being considered. The argument has been that “other schools do not have enough parking.” This fact does not excuse the lack of parking in future schools!
• Middle schools of the proposed size usually have a football team. There is not enough space at the middle school location for a football field. Therefore, if the school is to have a football team, the players will have to be bussed for all practices and games.
• Construction of future schools should aid in future reduction of the tax burden in Carter County.
In conclusion, please vote against a budget that is not beneficial to the school system or the citizens of Carter County. 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. 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. Thank you for your consideration.
Jerry McMahan
Carter County School Board Member

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