Guinn: ‘We need to get a statement saying that you are going to close schools’

Published 11:21 pm Monday, May 23, 2022

Any potential funding provided by the Carter County Commission for the $30 million Hunter School project, Carter County Commission will require a commitment from the school system that schools are going to be closed.

Director of Schools Dr. Tracy McAbee appeared before the Budget Committee on Monday without an approved budget and with a request for $9.5 million to help fund the $30 million Hunter School project. But commission members were not ready to commit to additional funding.

“We need to get a statement saying that you are going to close schools,” District 8 Commissioner Julie Guinn said.

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McAbee said he has told the school board that the county funding likely would depend on a commitment to close schools. “This project is never going to happen by keeping Keenburg and Unaka Elementary open,” McAbee said. “For this to work, this budget will not hold up by keeping those schools open.”

McAbee said he realizes consolidation of schools will cause stress for some communities, but it would result in both a cost savings and the ability to better utilize staff. By closing down Keenburg and Unaka, McAbee said $800,000 in savings could be recognized between the two schools and the school system could make better use of the teachers on staff. McAbee anticipates seven teachers retiring this year and perhaps 10 next year.

The school system has the funding needed to commit $20 million toward the project with $10 million in ESSER funds and another $10 million in its general fund. If the ESSER money is not spent toward the new school, those funds would have to be spent toward something such as a project at Hampton High School which doesn’t have a detailed cost at this point.

Commissioner Brad Johnson questioned the timing of the project, adding that waiting could see a drop in construction costs.

“The $10 million in ESSER funds wouldn’t be available and the fact that we have spent $675,000 on architecture plans already” are why the district wants to move ahead, McAbee said. “We had a pig in a poke until we got those detailed plans resulting in the bids coming in higher.”

McAbee also shared his frustration that even in funding the Hunter project that the city school system would come out with about 36% of the total amount of bond funded allowing ‘the city to polish up T.A. Dugger and pull even more students from the county’.

McAbee is scheduled to appear before the Financial Management Committee at 8:30 a.m. on June 8 with fully detailed plans for the school project and also at 6 p.m. with the Budget Committee to discuss the project with the committee and have the school budget ready for review.