ROGERSVILLE — The item on Thursday’s Hawkins County Board of Education agenda stated “Hawkins County Schools cost analysis from Dr. Keith Brewer.”
The communities surrounding Keplar Elementary School and McPheeters Bend Elementary School will be surprised to learn what that meant was a vote to close their schools at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
It’s been several years coming, but on Thursday the BOE voted 6-1 to move forward with closing the county’s two oldest and smallest rural schools — both of which had less than 100 students when the COVID-19 shutdown was enacted in March.
The justification for the closure was provided by a district-wide economic study completed earlier this year by Brewer, a former superintendent and Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner.
Brewer’s study stated that the school system could realize more than $3 million in cost savings by closing both schools. There is a link to the study in its entirety in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net
Keplar, which is located southeast of Rogersville on Burem Road had 78 students.
McPheeters Bend, which is located in the Goshen Valley community south of Church Hill, had 90 students.
The state BEP funding formula does not fund schools with less than 100 students for a principal, and neither school qualifies for a guidance counselor a librarian, or a music teacher.
There is one way for both communities to save their school, however.
In his motion to close both schools at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Board Chairman Chris Christian included the caveat, “If student numbers do not rise to current BEP requirements” — or 100 and above student population.
Throughout the past decade the subject of closing those schools has been discussed by the BOE several times, and each time was met with a massive protest from each respective community.
The original plan was to present Brewer’s study publicly and hear public input before making a final decision.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, which limits the number of people who could attend BOE meetings, the board was spared the wrath of those communities — at least for now.
Christian, who proposed the school closures on Thursday, also included provisions for a county-wide busing route and zoning study during the 2020-21 school year which will determine which schools those students should attend and which buses they’ll ride.
Christian noted that during the process of those studies there will be community meetings where the input of the community is solicited.
“This topic is not one we take lightly, but it is one that must be addressed,” Christian stated during Thursday’s meeting. “Leading up to this point we as a board have struggled finding the proper path to follow that is fair and equitable to all current and future stakeholders. With that I'm proposing to this board a road map, if you will, to be a guide for our students, parents, employees and system in moving forward.”
The only no vote for the school closures came from board member Judy Trent, although Trent approved other aspects of Christian’s motion including the countywide busing/zoning study, and the following provision:
Students from Keplar may request to attend Surgoinsville, Church Hill or McPheeters Bend (if it meets BEP minimum funding standards and stays open). Otherwise they will attend Joseph Rogers Primary, Hawkins Elementary and Rogertsville Middle.
If McPheeters Bend closes, its students will attend Church Hill Elementary unless the impending busing and zoning study recommends a specific student attend another school.
Christian's motion also stated from now on any school that falls below BEP funding requirements will be considered for closure.