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MCPS going back to the drawing board

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Superintendent recommends, board approves creating entirely new district facilities plan

By Stevie Lowery

The community has spoken, and the Marion County Board of Education and Superintendent Taylora Schlosser have listened.

As a result, the school district is going back to the drawing board, and the process of addressing school facilities is starting over.

During the Marion County Board of Education’s meeting Thursday evening, June 14, Superintendent Taylora Schlosser recommended the board “slow down” and not move forward with a plan to build a new 8-9 center.

“I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of folks,” she said. “And I want folks to understand that I have listened, and I would like to make a recommendation to the board. And I would like to recommend to the board that we slow down, that we step back and that we ensure that all the options are available for consideration.”

The school board unanimously agreed, and the district will now start over and create an entirely new district facilities plan. The previous plan, which was recommended by the Local Planning Committee, was to construct a new 8-9 center adjacent to the Marion County High School campus and renovate MCHS. Under that plan, Lebanon Elementary would eventually relocate to the current Marion County Knight Academy. However, the board rescinded that plan Thursday evening, and it's completely off the table.

Now, a new Local Planning Committee will convene, RossTarrant Architects will begin the process of evaluating the MCPS facilities and the process will start over.

“We could bring our architects back in, we could evaluate each of our buildings, we would have an opportunity, like we did before, to have multiple community forums so that everyone there heard the exact same message, which included what we hear from the architects, the money and what the communities have to say,” Schlosser said. “It would give us an opportunity to look at all the information, it would be an opportunity to look at this from a collaborative and a team effort and next steps.”

Schlosser said if the committee goes through the entire process and believes the best thing is to renovate current buildings, she would support that plan.

“If the committee comes together and we want and we believe that the best thing is to renovate Calvary, to renovate Lebanon Elementary, to renovate Marion County High School… I will support that 100 percent,” she said.

Schlosser said she's listened to feedback from the community, and that’s why she is recommending the district start the entire process over.

“I’ve listened,” she said. “I want to support what is best for Marion County Public Schools. This is about the children. This is about our future. This is about our community. This is about a celebration.”

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Schlosser had voiced her support for the plan to build a new 8-9 center. In a message, written by Schlosser, which was posted on the MCPS website following the LPC’s May 22 meting, she states, “This plan presents a tremendous opportunity to start building a better future for the students of Marion County Public Schools… I commend the Local Planning Committee and the work they have put toward this project, which is a solid, rational plan that improves MCPS for students throughout the entire county.”

School board members even seemed surprised by her recommendation at Thursday’s meeting.

“We didn’t expect that,” Board Chairman Butch Cecil said after Schlosser made her recommendation.

Chairman Cecil proceeded to voice his support for Schlosser’s recommendation, and point out that he hasn’t forgotten what he said back in 2016 during the nickel campaign regarding the needs of Calvary Elementary and Lebanon Elementary schools.

“I know what I said, and I was going to stand by my word and what I said,” Cecil said. “I didn’t need anybody to remind me what I said because I know what I said.”

(It should be noted, The Enterprise took advantage of several opportunities recently in print, and at last week’s community forum, to remind Cecil of his exact words during the nickel campaign in 2016.)

Vice Chairman Kaelin Reed and Board Member Carrie Truitt both expressed their support of Schlosser’s recommendation to slow down and start over.

“I appreciate Mrs. Schlosser’s recommendation,” Reed said. “I think that’s the right direction to go.”

Truitt pointed out that she made that exact recommendation during a previous school board work session.

“I’m pretty sure that I recommended we do every single one of those things at our April 30 work session, including rescinding the current BG-1,” Truitt said. “So, I’m happy to see that we are starting to come around.”

 

Public comment

During Thursday’s meeting, the school board gave community members in attendance a chance to speak.

Magistrate Larry Caldwell thanked the board for its decision to start over.

“I appreciate y’all going back and saying we’re going to look at it again,” he said. “That was the big concern.”

Caldwell then used the school district’s slogan of “Dream, Believe, Achieve” to make his next point.

“We believed we could get the nickel tax passed, and it did happen,” Caldwell said. “But, to achieve it, you guys got to follow through.”

Melissa Lee Knight spoke not only as a parent, but also as a member of the previous LPC and a member of the state advisory council for exceptional children. 

“Small elementary schools are the most beneficial for kids with special needs, whether that’s gifted education or special needs education,” Knight said. “And, as a parent and a member of that advisory council, I do not want to see an elementary school with 700 children.”

Knight said if the district had all the money in the world, she believes an 8-9 center would be “remarkable,” but she believes the district must be very efficient in how it uses its current facilities.

But, efficiency can be pushed to the limit, as well, according to Knight.

“The most efficient thing might be to build one enormous school or two enormous schools and pull everyone in, and that might be efficient. But, it’s not good for the kids,” she said. “I think we have to think about what’s a good use of the money and what’s efficient but not push it too far.”

Knight said she thought it was a very smart move to step back and look at the total impact of the district facilities plan, not just on the children, but also on the community as a whole. 

“If you’re going to abandon buildings, what of those buildings? What would happen to Lebanon Elementary or Calvary Elementary proprieties?” Knight said. “For the community, I think that’s a real concern. And I think the community really just wants this board and the planning committee to step back and thoroughly examine all those aspects.”

Chairman Cecil responded.

“We agree,” he said.