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Community members ask school board to keep its nickel campaign promise

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Calvary Elementary and Lebanon Elementary should still be treated as top priorities, community members say

By Stevie Lowery

Many Marion Countians who voted in favor of the recallable nickel in 2016 feel like they could soon become victims of a “bait and switch” tactic.
During the recallable nickel campaign, Marion County Superintendent Taylora Schlosser told the community that if the nickel was approved, a new school would be built for Calvary Elementary, and Lebanon Elementary would be, at the very least, renovated and expanded. Those two schools, she said, would be the top two priorities if the nickel was approved.  
However, that’s not at all what’s on the table for the school board to consider at its meeting this Thursday. The Local Planning Committee’s recommendation is to construct a new 8-9 center adjacent to the Marion County High School campus and renovate MCHS. Lebanon Elementary would eventually relocate to the current Marion County Knight Academy.
Tuesday evening, Carrie Truitt, who represents District 1 on the school board, held a community forum at Floral Hall in Lebanon to gather feedback from the community on the LPC’s recommendation. Approximately 40 people attended the hour and a half long forum, and more than a dozen people voiced their opinions and concerns. Only one person in attendance voiced comments in favor of the plan.
Sister Kay Carlew, former school board chairman, said she was in favor of the LPC’s plan, specifically because it involves renovations at MCHS.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve been hearing the high school needs renovations,” she said.
Carlew said she was also in favor of the LPC’s plan because it will potentially serve more students.
The remaining attendees who spoke are very much against the plan, primarily because it doesn’t address the priorities that were communicated to them during the nickel campaign.
“I believe right is right and wrong is wrong, and that is why I’m here,” Margaret Blanford said. “I want that nickel tax used for what we voted for.”
Joyce Caldwell, who teaches at Calvary Elementary, said she doesn’t understand why there seems to be a rush to implement the LPC’s plan. She also pointed out that children attend elementary schools longer than any other school, so investments in local elementary schools make sense.
“We have our elementary students for a minimum of six years,” she said. “They will never be at any other school for that long in their whole life.”
Her husband, Larry Caldwell, who serves as a magistrate on the Marion County Fiscal Court, said the fiscal court does not support the LPC’s plan to build a new 8-9 center.
“When you tell people you’re going to do something, and they vote for it, and they spend their money on it, you should do what you say you’re going to do,” Caldwell said. “If you make a commitment, you need to stick to it... Somebody lied to somebody… Fiscal court is very upset because now it’s all changed.”
Lebanon City Council Member Darin Spalding, who also spoke at the forum, said the council is not in support of this plan, and is sending a letter to the school board voicing the council’s concerns.
Tyler Lee, whose wife teaches at LES and has two children attending LES, said it would be a shame to close LES, considering its located right downtown.
“I would hate to see that downtown location be moved… I really do feel like it is a jewel,” he said.
Lee is who originally approached the school board in September of 2016 and asked the board for help in regards to school facilities.
“The public saw the needs of Lebanon Elementary and Calvary… They are expecting improvements,” Lee said. “We need to fulfill the promises we have made to both Lebanon Elementary and Calvary.”
Andrea Willett, who has children who attend Calvary, said she feels very disappointed and letdown as a parent who voted for the recallable nickel because she was told the needs at CES would be addressed. She also said there are many parents who didn’t attend the community forum because they basically have no faith in the school board.
“Some parents were so disheartened that they didn’t want to be here because they felt like they’ve already lied to us, they are going to do what they want to do,” Willett said. “They felt like even their presence couldn’t even make a difference, and that is sad.”
Gia Phillips said she didn’t vote in favor of the recallable nickel in 2008, but she did in 2016 because the school board convinced her that the additional funds were needed for CES and LES. She expressed her confusion as to why the 8-9 center was now being treated as a priority.
“I think if you don’t follow-up on those promises, you’re going to lose all credibility with the community,” she said. “I just want to see a lot more options on the table before you guys make a decision.”
Nick Day, who advocated for the recallable nickel, said the community will never approve another nickel tax if the board doesn’t keep its promise.
“You all are about to make a huge, huge mistake,” he said. “What you have done is you have promised us one thing, and then you turned around and now you’re going to go ahead and do something completely different… We voted on the nickel tax for specific reasons… We’re upset that you guys are not holding up your end of the bargain.”
Before the forum ended, Board Vice Chairman Kaelin Reed spoke and apologized to anyone who felt like he misrepresented anything to them during the nickel campaign.
“I promise each one of you I was telling you what I thought was the truth at the time,” he said. “We made a commitment… I remember what the priorities were. I remember what I said.”
Reed said he’s developed an alternative plan that he’s shared with his fellow school board members and Superintendent Schlosser.
“If you don’t start with the idea that you have to build a new 8/9 center, if you start where we started back in the spring of 2016 and you say, ‘What are our needs and how are we going to address our needs?’ If that’s where you start, then allocating the funds becomes much simpler,” Reed said. “It’s when we try to contort ourselves and bend ourselves into a pretzel to accommodate this 8-9 center, that’s where we get to a difficult decision.”
Board Chairman Butch Cecil said the school board will vote on the LPC’s facilities plan at the board’s meeting this Thursday. The meeting starts at 5 p.m., and will be held at central office, located on Danville Highway in front of Marion County High School.
Reed encouraged people to contact their school board representative.
“Maybe not everybody on this board is still open-minded, but there are some of us who are,” he said. “Reach out to your representative. If you feel like this 8-9 center is not the right way to go, you’ve got 48 hours. And, I wish you would.”

AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH

(Provided by Kaelin G. Reed, Board Member, District II, Marion County Board of Education)

* $7.1 million to renovate Calvary Elementary, including an upgrade to all existing infrastructure (including secure entry vestibule) and the addition of 17,000 sq. ft of space to include: 2 standard classrooms, 1 Special Education Resource Room, 4 Resource rooms, 1 Preschool classroom, 1 Art Classroom, 1 Music Classroom, 1 Computer lab, enlargement of the Media Center and kitchen, New Gymnasium, enlarged Administration area, enlarged Family Resource Center space and a Custodial Receiving area. (Space and costs from 2015 Dist. Fac. Plan) 
*$8.3 million to renovate Lebanon Elementary, including an upgrade to all existing infrastructure (including secure entry vestibule) and the addition of 12,500 sq. ft of space to include: 5 Resource rooms, 2 preschool classrooms, enlargement of the Media Center, New Kitchen, New Cafeteria, enlarged Enlarged Family Resource Center space and a Custodial Receiving area. (Space and costs from 2015 Dist. Fac. Plan)
*$8 million to renovate MCHS (Current BG-1 with the 8/9 Center calls for $6M renovation - this is 33 percent more money allocated to MCHS than under current plan)
*$2 million to replace WMES HVAC system and reconfigure parking lot.
*$2 million to expand MCMS (St. Charles) to include: 3 standard classrooms, a Special Ed room, 4 resource rooms and Enlarging the band room, (Space and costs from the 2017 Dist. Fac. Plan)
This would leave approximately $2.5 million for additional projects at Glasscock or MCKA (Lebanon Middle) or for unexpected system failures.