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Board not closing schools, Wallins project progressing

The Harlan County Board of Education has no plans to close Cawood Elementary School or Green Hills Elementary School.

Board of Education Chairman Gary Farmer opened the June board meeting to address rumors that the schools will be closed. He also addressed rumors on two issues concerning the Wallins Elementary School addition and renovation project.

Farmer said the rumors “are being spread by an individual or individuals,” noting his frustration that it creates anxiety for students, staff and the communities.

Farmer said the rumors are being spread “to smear good people.”

He said closing of the schools has not been in any discussion by the board, adding the district operates as required by law with a facilities committee and a facilities plan.

Noting the time is near for the district to begin work on a facility plan, he said closing the schools is not on the agenda.

“To me it is unthinkable for someone to start something like this… It is a very untruthful person who would do something like that,” Farmer said.

Farmer said the Board of Education speaks through its meetings and minutes.

“For those of you watching, we just approved the minutes from the last meeting,” he said. “Those minutes are now official. Please do not believe everything you hear or you see on Facebook (about the closing of the schools and the Wallins project). People like to get things like this started to agitate… and smear good people.”

Superintendent Brent Roark agreed with Farmer.

“Any rumor you hear to that accord on Green Hills or Cawood Elementary is completely untrue,” Roark said. “The person telling that is a very untruthful person. That is a mild way to put it.”

Farmer also addressed the rumors that the Wallins Elementary School addition and renovation project is out of money.

“We are not out of money,” he said. “They ran out of materials. They had to have the door frames before they could continue work on the project.”

The delay in shipment of materials stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction resumed in only a few days when the materials arrived.

Farmer also said land purchased in 2005 in hopes of building a new facility for Wallins is still owned by the Board of Education. He said the land has been utilized to obtain dirt for fill on the current project.

Had the board not owned the land, it would have increased costs for the current project, he said.

A new Wallins facility was cost prohibitive, but funding was secured for the addition and renovation to keep a school open in the Wallins community.

Roark has said previously that the current project may well have proven to be the last hope to keep a community school at Wallins because of the age of the building, the prohibition of spending funds on the portion of the building located in the flood plain and the lack of bonding capacity and population loss.

The current project includes some innovative planning and funding necessary to make it become a reality.

The $6.593 million addition includes 11 classrooms and an office suite with an administrative and counselor’s office, nurse’s office and Family Resource and Youth Service Center.

A projected completion for the renovation is late December, with demolition of the current structure by April 12, 2021.

In other matters, Roark reported to the board on resources for parents and students during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the Meals to You program is serving more than 3,000 students from Harlan County. Boxes of non-perishable breakfasts and lunches are shipped to student homes. The program is extended through Aug. 15.

He also said a majority of the district’s families are taking advantage of a COVID-19 relief program that provides a little more than $300 per student.

“Regardless of your income, you do qualify,” he said, encouraging participation from all.

The Meals to You are still coming, and the P-EBT cards are still available, he said.

On the employment report, Roark said the number of retirements picked up slightly in June, but the district has a much lower number of retirees this year.

“They are holding on to their jobs right now and are a little afraid of what the future holds,” he said.

Roark also complimented the district’s nine school administrations and site base councils for their printed Comprehensive School Improvements Plans made available to board members at the meeting.

Normally, the board schedules two or three schools per meeting to present their reports. However, with meeting restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, Roark asked principals for the printed materials.