Clark County seeking state approval for plan to consolidate seven elementary schools into four

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2014 

After seven years, three school superintendents, and some false starts, the Clark County Public Schools finally might be about to implement a complex, sometimes controversial, new school facilities plan.

It first must be approved by the Kentucky Board of Education.

But Clark School Superintendent Paul Christy says he's already planning for implementation which, among other things, would require seven county elementary school principals to apply for new posts next year. Some teachers also would have to change schools under the plan; new site-based councils would have to be formed at some schools; and the county school system as a whole would have to be redistricted.

That's because the plan would dramatically alter the Clark district: consolidating seven elementary schools into four; closing some elementaries outright and reconverting another into a pre-school center; reconfiguring a middle school as a new elementary; and making various other changes.

"It affects every building in our district, except our high school, which we just moved last year," Christy said. "We're having to start all over is about what it amounts to.

"No one is being asked to resign. As required by law, we're providing people with continued employment in the system. Most of the principals are tenured, so they'll have jobs. They also can apply for principal positions in our new schools, and I think most of them will do that."

Nothing can happen, however, until the state school board votes on the Clark plan. That's scheduled at the board's April 9 meeting, and Christy said he thinks the plan will pass.

"We've met all the state board's concerns and we've had a lot of support from them," he said. "I don't think there will be a problem with it being passed."

The facilities plan has traveled a rocky road since it was first proposed seven years ago. Its main goal was to phase out several Clark County schools that the state had listed as "Category 5," that is buildings that were old and in bad condition.

Work on the Clark plan began in 2007 when Ed Musgrove was superintendent. It continued during Elaine Farris' four years as superintendent. Now, Christy — the third superintendent to work on the plan — finally might see it implemented.

Christy said Friday that he thinks there is a "tremendous amount of support" for the plan among Clark County school board members, district staffers and county residents.

But that wasn't always the case.

Many residents disliked the plan's intent to merge, close or reconfigure schools.

Early last year, Clark school board members tried to delay part of the plan, and rejected another provision outright.

That drew a stern warning from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who said the district would forfeit state funding if it didn't stay with the plan. The Clark board reluctantly complied.

Christy, who took over as superintendent last July, tried to build support for the plan. He secured state approval for a county planning committee to take another look at the plan.

"We sought a lot of public and staff input, and came up with a new plan that the school board approved 5-0," he said. "With the state saying that we have to do this, I think the community understands that we must move ahead."

Christy said the district is preparing steps such as renaming schools that will be reconfigured under the plan. The Conkwright Middle School, for example, will get a new name when it converts to an elementary school.

Christy said decisions also must be made on what to do with schools that would be phased out under the plan, like Trapp, Providence, Pilot View and Hannah McClure elementaries. The McClure building will go on, however, as a pre-school center.

Christy agreed, however, that some of the personnel changes will be difficult.

"I was a principal before, and I've been through this myself," he said. "But in the interests of transparency and fairness, and doing what's best for our kids, this is the process we've decided to move ahead with."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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