WINCHESTER — The Clark County Board of Education voted to move ahead with a controversial district facilities plan Tuesday night, ceding to a state ultimatum to proceed or risk losing education funding.
Board members voted 3-2 to adopt a resolution pledging to move the facilities plan forward "with all possible haste," as the state had demanded.
They also gave the go-ahead to plan for renovations of Clark Middle School and the old George Rogers Clark High School in preparation for implementing the plan.
However, members agreed in a series of split votes to reduce the amount earmarked for the George Rogers Clark renovation from $16.5 million to $8.4 million. The amount planned for Clark Middle's renovation would remain at $2 million. The renovations are to prepare for a merger of county middle schools as called for in the facilities plan.
That move to reduce the amount allocated for the renovations came at the suggestion of board chairman Michael Kuduk, who questioned allocating $18.5 million to prepare for a middle school merger that is opposed by many county residents. If the plan ultimately goes through, it would be easy to increase the allocation later, Kuduk said.
It wasn't immediately clear, however, whether the reduced amount will satisfy state officials.
The facilities plan has been on the books since 2007, but has been opposed by some Clark County residents since the beginning.
Things came to a head earlier this year, after a new majority on the school board voted to delay part of the facilities plan for a year, and then declined to approved money for the renovations at Clark Middle and the George Rogers Clark building.
However, state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday wrote Clark board members last week, stating that they had to start moving ahead with the facilities plan at their Tuesday night meeting, or face possible forfeiture of monthly state funding to the school district.
Holliday noted in his letter that the approved facilities plan is legally binding, and that the state already has committed about $21.9 million toward implementing the plan.
Tuesday night's actions still leaves the school board facing several other deadlines mandated by Holliday, any one of which could trigger funding forfeiture if they are not met.
For example, the board must approve construction documents for the Clark Middle and George Rogers Clark renovations by Nov. 1, and approve construction contracts for both projects by Jan. 1, 2014. Work on Clark Middle must start by March 3, 2014, and work must begin on the old high school by May 30, 2014.
Finally, the board has until the start of the 2014-2015 school year to move all Clark Middle students into the old high school building, as well as moving all students out of the Pilot View, Trapp and Providence elementary schools, which are slated for closing under the facilities plan.
Some county residents oppose the proposal on several grounds. Some don't want to see the elementary schools closed; others oppose the planned merging of Clark County's two middle schools into the old George Rogers Clark building; and others doubt the wisdom of spending money to convert the almost 50-year-old facility for middle school use.