County Schools Superintendent recommends study on possible consolidation

Carter County School Board’s workshop Thursday evening brought several financial difficulties to the spotlight, but one recommendation from Superintendent Kevin Ward will set the tone for next week’s workshop.

“The study we are recommending is to put some options on the table in terms of what possibilities or what types of plans we could look at to consider school closures,” Ward said.

The recommendation came after a series of discussions about possible budget cuts for the 2019-2020 school year. Among the suggestions were four teaching positions, one counselor position at the high school and $100,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund.

These cuts and other rearranging of funds, Ward said, is to work towards avoiding having to pull money from other funds, like Food Services, in order to balance the budget.

“We cannot continue to pull from the pile in order to pay Sam,” he said.

He said currently, there is no concrete plan on what this consolidation would look like, should it actually come to pass. Rather, he said this recommendation is to get the county genuinely looking at all their options.

“The step in the process is for us to have very objective options if we do get a vote for the study,” Ward said. “You got to have information to look at. You have to have a very independent look at it so we do not get bogged down with a lot of preconceived plans.”

Whatever agency the board decides to bring in, Ward said they will be independent of Carter County Schools and Carter County altogether.

Carter County Schools have been losing students for several years. The board said they have lost roughly 1,300 students between 2012 and March 2019, and are going to a variety of different places, especially schools like T.A. Dugger and Elizabethton High School. They said many are even going to homeschool options or even moving out of the state. This loss of students makes it harder to bring in revenue, which they said is creating a spiral of problems.

“This is a business,” Ward said. “We have to be able to balance a sensible budget.”

He said this is especially important because the challenge is not going to get any easier moving forward.

“It is only going to get tougher,” Ward said. “This is one can that cannot be kicked down the road, and we just need to know our options because eventually, it is going to adversely affect our school system and students and our taxpayers.”

The recommendation will feature more prominently in next week’s workshop, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11. All members of the public are welcome to attend.

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