School merger forum held

-A A +A

'We need to talk, not about sports, but education.'

By Becky Cassell, Editor

Most were for it, at least one appeared to be against it, still others simply had questions.

A public meeting Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Park Community Center to discuss a merger of the two local public school systems lasted an hour and a half and attracted nearly 100 residents.

News-Journal Publisher Patrick Keefe, who both hosted and facilitated the meeting, supplied packets of information regarding state law as well as revenue, expenses and enrollment at both Campbellsville Independent and Taylor County school systems.

Keefe said that discussions about the possibility of merger have been taking place at restaurants, coffeehouses and dinner tables in the community for a while now, and with both superintendents stepping down at the end of this school year, he believes there's no better time for a public meeting to bring the discussion out into the open.

Regardless of any of the evening's discussions, he added, no merger can take place unless it is first requested by the Campbellsville Independent School Board.

Several members of both school boards were in attendance as was Taylor County Superintendent Gary Seaborne, Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers and others.

About 10 people volunteered to address the crowd. Each was allotted three minutes.

Frank Kidwell was the first to speak.

"There are only three reasons to merge two smaller districts into one larger and more complex district," he said. "Some insurmountable financial crisis, when a school would get so small it could not meet the curricular needs of the student body, or possibly when the school facilities get into such a shape that it would endanger the safety and welfare of the students."

Kidwell, a former CHS teacher who now works at the Taylor County Adult Learning Center, went on to say that the Campbellsville School District is, and has been, financially solvent. While it has faced considerable debt in the past, he said, the District is doing well today and is in the midst of a $5 million renovation.

"I know some people sit and drink coffee and discuss merger, but have they visited our libraries, our science labs, our computer facilities? Have they walked in our hallways, looked into the classrooms, talked to our principals or teachers?"

Sports, he said, is no reason to consolidate two successful school systems.

After the meeting, Kidwell said there are 54 independent school districts in Kentucky, with 47 of them including grades kindergarten through 12. Campbellsville, he said, is No. 20 in terms of population.

The second person to speak was Yvette Haskins, who said she is in favor of a merger. Haskins said no school system should settle for mediocrity when it could strive for excellence.

"Merger has nothing to do with Cardinals and Eagles ... It has to do with education and economics.

"We are cheating our kids if we don't think of their benefit first."

Paul Haskins, who said he also thinks merger is a good idea, said residents need to put aside their feelings for individual school districts and focus on the children.

"That's where our future is," he said.

With schools merged, Paul Haskins said, additional programs could be offered to students, including magnet schools, which would focus on particular educational areas.

Sandy England asked about the benefits of merger. She also questioned whether a merger would prevent some children from being able to participate in sports and other activities.

Charles Meghan asked if anyone could answer why Campbellsville Schools gets more federal funding than Taylor County even though Campbellsville is the smaller school.

According to information from the Kentucky Department of Education, CISD received $2.2 million in federal dollars while TCSD received $1.8 million.

Campbellsville Middle School Principal Chris Kidwell said that City Schools has a higher percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunch, and federal funding is based upon that percentage. If the schools were merged, he added, the percentage of those students would be lower and federal funding would be less as well.

David Nunery, a member of the Campbellsville City Council, suggested that the districts consider having one combined district yet keep the same schools, which might allow for a broader spectrum of programs.

"It seems a single Board of Education could presumably operate in a more economical fashion," he said. "I assume you will talk about it and I think that's one aspect that ought to be considered."

Billy B Smith, a retired TCHS teacher and basketball coach, said he has been in favor of a merger as far back as 1971.

Local basketball teams have had good success for decades, Smith said, but if the two local teams had been combined they would have been in the running for the state championships.

"Sports is as much a part of education as anything," he said, as it helps students develop good character.

Next up was Jerry Kibbons, who said he moved to Taylor County 40 years ago, which was about the same time that both school superintendents had just resigned.

"I couldn't understand then why they didn't merge."

Kibbons asked several questions about the local demographics, pay scales and the ratio of pupil expense. He said we need to examine the future as it relates to the tax base.

Beth Overgaauw said she has seen the socioeconomic difference increase during the years both she and her own children attended Campbellsville Schools.

"I would really like to see a merger happen."

Last up was Clem Haskins, who was the first black student at Taylor County High decades ago. He said he is also in favor of a merger of the two school districts.

"Kids at Campbellsville High School are getting cheated," Haskins said.

He said his own daughter was an A student in Kentucky and scored a 24 on her ACT. His son, however, attended school in Minnesota where he was a B/C student, yet scored a 26 on his ACT.

"As we leave here and talk about this meeting, we need to talk, not about sports, but education."

- Editor Rebecca Cassell can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 227 or by e-mail at editor@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.

Want to know more?

See the packet of information about revenue, expenses and enrollment distributed at the meeting in the photo gallery.