Hawkins school study identifies pros and cons of closing schools, cutting teachers

Jeff Bobo • Mar 25, 2020 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — An independent economic study states that the Hawkins County school system would save more than $1.3 million annually by closing Keplar and McPheeters Bend elementary schools, as well as another $1.2 million by canceling their one-time facility projects.

The study, which can be read in its entirety online, also suggests that Hawkins County Schools could save more than $713,000 annually by not replacing 20 of the average 30 teachers that the system will lose through ordinary attrition at the end of this school year.

With regards to the proposed teacher reduction plan, the study states it would increase the pupil/teacher ratio, but reduce the number of teachers paid through local funds instead of the state BEP funding plan, saving an estimated $713,540 per year.

Combined with potential school closures, that’s more than $3 million in savings that the Board of Education might choose to implement in time for the 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

However, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, it might be a while before the BOE has an opportunity to act on the study. Originally the board planned to meet in a special called meeting on March 31 to discuss the study, with the intent of possibly making some decisions on April 2.

“Safely gather and allow for public input”

Director of Schools Matt Hixson said Tuesday, however, that both of those meetings are now postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“During this past year as director of schools here in Hawkins County, I can honestly say that our board has diligently sought to accept all viewpoints, opinions, and suggestions related to student achievement, safety, and success,” Hixson said. “Of these priorities, none outweigh the need to protect our students and to provide for their well-being. To this end, the decision to take any action regarding any of our school sites will only be made after we can safely gather and allow for public input.”

The study was conducted over several months by former superintendent and Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Dr. Keith Brewer and was submitted to the school system earlier this month.

“Small schools have a family atmosphere”

The Brewer study notes that although there are monetary savings to be had by closing McPheeters Bend and Keplar, the outcome is not all positive.

“According to educators the liabilities of consolidation are the loss of interaction between faculty and administration, loss of the ‘family atmosphere’ within a school, and the loss of smaller pupil/teacher ratios,” Brewer states in his report. “Small schools have a family atmosphere. Every administrator and teacher that work at the school know the names of all the students in the school. Every administrator and teacher at the school know the names of the parent/guardian and grandparents of the students. Support staff may actually have gone to the school and live in the community.”

Keplar by the numbers

Keplar is a K-5 school with a current enrollment of 78 students. It has six teachers, of whom 3.59 are paid through the state BEP funding plan.

By closing Keplar, the school system has an immediate reduction in cost of $684,456, and the district has eliminated future costs for building improvements of $834,430.

McPheeters Bend by the numbers

McPheeters Bend has a current enrollment of 90. It has five teachers, of whom 4.31 are paid through the state BEP funding plan.

By closing McPheeters Bend, the school system has an immediate reduction in cost of $639,455, and the district has eliminated future costs for building improvements of $412,060.

The BEP does not fund schools for a principal with less than 100 students, and both schools do not qualify for a guidance counselor a librarian, or a music teacher.

Brewer identifies the “pros and cons” of closures

The pros include: The consolidation would save money; would improve student achievement; would improve the curriculum with more course offerings; and the BOE and director of schools would be able to focus resources.

The cons include: transfer of teachers; elimination of jobs; low morale of teachers; loss of one-on-one teaching; loss of family atmosphere; increase in pupil/teacher ratio; lower student achievement; transportation — students would be waiting on the bus before daylight; loss of existing grants; waste of revenue — schools have recently been renovated; and loss of the community’s identity.

“Our focus has been and will remain to be squarely centered on student safety,” Hixson said. “Student safety and equal access to available resources will continue to drive all decisions our board makes. This board has been very diligent in seeking impartial information, weighing options, and considering the well-being of every student across the entire county, especially during this crisis.”

Hixson added, “We must all focus on doing what we can do to remain healthy, keep our students safe, and help one another during this time. The cost analysis report, any recommendations, and actions can and should wait. When it is deemed safe to allow such a public forum needed to view and discuss this report and any subsequent actions, we will release the timeline well ahead of time.”

A link to a copy Brewer’s entire study is available in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.

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