Hawkins BOE ready to hear recommendations on potential school closings, teacher cuts

Jeff Bobo • Apr 8, 2020 at 3:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education may soon begin considering recommendations regarding an economic study that said more than $3 million could be saved by closing its two smallest schools permanently and by reducing the overall teaching staff by 20.

However, BOE Chairman Chris Christian said Monday he opposes taking action on those potential cuts until the public is able to participate in the discussion.

There has been an enormous public outcry from the McPheeters Bend and Keplar communities in past years when the board has discussed closing their schools.

Meetings scheduled for March 31 and April 2 to discuss and potentially implement the savings outlined in the study were canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Public gatherings are still prohibited, but the BOE met on Monday using the website ZOOM, which allowed five of the seven BOE members to participate using their home computers.

Only Christian, Tecky Hicks, and Director of Schools Matt Hixson attended in person at the bus shop meeting room.

A system-wide economic study was conducted over several months by former superintendent and Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Dr. Keith Brewer.

In early March, the BOE was presented with that completed study, which stated that the Hawkins County school system would save more than $1.3 million annually by closing Keplar and McPheeters Bend elementary schools.

Another $1.2 million in one-time savings would occur by canceling facility repair projects scheduled for both of those schools.

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 academic year.

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

On Monday, board member Bob Larkins asked about the timeline for the BOE to act on the Brewer study. Larkins chose not to seek re-election to his District 1 seat and will leave office at the end of August.

“My concern is with myself going off the board, we’re going to put a new board member out there who hasn’t had any experience or any information at all on this decision,” Larkins told the BOE. “He’s going to be voting on something that’s going to be really tough if we don’t get to it before September.”

Christian replied, “We’ve got to take things day-by-day. I don’t want to say. We’re going to try to have a meeting in June. I don’t know.”

“The other thing is it has such a budget impact on us, as well,” Larkins said, “and we’re going to start into the budget. I don’t know how else to do that other than to just jump in there and maybe look at some alternatives. Maybe let the community have input just like we’re doing tonight.”

Larkins asked that Hixson produce some recommendations pertaining to information provided in the Brewer study. The board informally agreed to schedule a workshop meeting for sometime in the near future to hear Hixson’s recommendations.

Budget workshop set for Thursday

The BOE will hold a budget workshop on Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. using the same ZOOM technology so that members can participate remotely. This meeting is for regular business not directly related to the Brewer study.

A link allowing the public to watch the meeting can be accessed on the school system’s website at www.hck12.net.

The next regularly scheduled BOE meeting will be on May 7.

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