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Superintendent Stevens Responds to Issues with Local Schools

In particular, Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute provided iSurf News with an article last week that focused on the actions/responses the Hopkins County School has made in regards to the community’s issues, which was entitled, "Superintendent ‘Molds’ His Legacy by Ignoring a School’s Success."

Today, August 24th, iSurf News contacted the Hopkins County Superintendent of Schools, James Stevens, to which Mr. Waters’ title refers, and got his response to the recent article, as well as how the school system functions in relation to construction plans and/or renovations.

“I appreciate parents wanting the very best for their kids and the very best for their schools,” said Stevens, “just like it’s my main job to find the very best education and the very best facilities for all of the students in Hopkins County.”

In regards to the ranking of facilities in the Hopkins County School District, which is represented on a 1-5 scale in several areas of each school (1 being in “Excellent Condition” and 5 being in “Poor Condition), Superintendent Stevens said, “The last facility survey was done in 2007 and Hanson was a Category 3 school, which means that it is in ‘average condition’ by the state’s standards. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but that’s the state standard they have. There are 5 categories and a Category 5 is the worst. This past legislative session, the state did decide to help schools that were in Category 5. Hanson Elementary had several deficiencies, but it had no Category 5 ratings in its architectural evaluation. Most of Hanson’s categories across the board were 2s and 3s. It did have some 4s, but there were no 5s at all.”

To view a PDF file of the actual evaluation, click on the following link: http://www.hopkins.k12.ky.us/files/filesystem/2007HansonEval.pdf.

“Hanson Elementary and the Careers and Technical Center were listed in 1A on the list of brand new construction projects for Hopkins County Schools,” said Stevens of the county’s new construction priorities. “The School Board has one of two choices…Item A is to build a new school; item B is a major renovation of Hanson School. Browning Springs is a classic example. Browning Springs was a Category 5 school back in 2005. The state offered additional money and the board had a choice of keeping the same site and having a major renovation or demoing it and building a new school somewhere else. It was the number one priority from 1998-2005.”

As far as Hanson Elementary School, Stevens said the Board-elected architects stated in 2007, that a new building, which doesn’t include the purchase of new property, would cost $12.5 million. Overall, Stevens believes that a major renovation of Hanson may wind up making more financial sense as opposed to building a new school after an updated facility inspection, which will begin in Spetember.

Stevens also explained what the Facility Committee, which is responsible for voting on how funding is to be spent, is comprised of: 4 parents from the site-base councils at different schools, 4 teachers from various schools, a principal chosen from schools not chosen in the random selection, 1 Board member, 1 member of the Central Office personnel, 1 Director of Facilities, and 3-4 community members (usually business people; they may or may not have children in the schools). The reasoning behind such a variety of members is to try and remain unbiased across the board. In addition, Stevens made it clear that the Superintendent is not a voting member of the Committee, though he can offer suggestions.

Once assembled, the Facility Committee reviews an architect’s Facility Plans for the county.

According to Stevens, the last time Facility Plans were created, which followed the evaluation in 2007, “The Facility Committee said ‘we want a new school at Hanson and we want a new Career and Technical Center.’ The vote for Hanson wasn’t put in there as either a new school/major renovation, so that’s what you have to live. So this time, if the committee wants to say a new school again, then you’re obligated to a new school and that’s it. That’s what the people don’t understand. You could not go in there with the Facility Plan we had, even if we had the money—I guess we could use general fund money—but you couldn’t go in there and build a gymnasium, because it’s not on the Facility Plan. It’s Hanson: Completely New School. What I’ve learned, is that you put ‘New School and/or Major Renovation’ on the Facility Plan instead, because the major renovation option does allow you to renovate half of the building or demolish half of the building.”

“With the controversy we’ve had this time, I am sure that if there’s any school that needs to be replaced or needs a major renovation that the option will be put on the facility plan, such as with Hanson. It would be my recommendation, and it’s only a recommendation, that Hanson still remains as a New School priority, but the caveat should add ‘Major Renovations’ so that you are able to come in and add to the school, tear certain parts of the school down, and rebuild that."

As of right now, Stevens said that our County’s bonding potential is about $10 million. From that total, the Facility Committee has to choose how the funding is delegated amongst 1st priority construction plan categories, which includes much more than just Hanson and the Tech Center (though they are both the top priority position of 1A after the Facility Committee voted in 2007). As far as why the Committee chose to go with the Tech Center, Stevens explained that the budget wasn’t there for a completely new school for Hanson, stating that, “The Tech Center doesn’t have all the add-ons a traditional school like Hanson would have.”

The state’s funding within the bonding capacity is based on property value, said Stevens. Therefore, the higher the contribution of area via property tax, the more state funding will be. “The state is only going to give you what they call ‘Matching Money’ or financial help for those things listed in category 1, and you have to list them if they do not meet the state standards right now. Everything else is discretionary and the state doesn’t offer assistance with that.” In addition, Stevens explained that, “We can’t use bonding funds for anything outside of category 1, or first priority, facility construction.”

As of the moment, Stevens stated that the Board of Education is addressing Hanson Elementary issues brought up from school staff and parents as they can right now, and also went on to say that a clean bill of health was given from local and state Health Department members at schools such as Hanson, Jesse Stuart, Southside, and MNHHS.

“The Health Department did recommend, because of the human conditions,” said Stevens, “that we needed to either change the practice we use to clean carpets or to take carpet out and replace them with area rugs. We’re in the process of looking at that. There was also a comment made about rodents, rats, bats, and this and that. We have a local exterminator and he has been down at the site working. To our knowledge, we do not have any rodent problems, because the local Health Department, especially during the school year, is in our kitchens and cafeterias once a month. It’s not to say that you don’t ever see a mouse in there, but as far as being rodent infected, it’s just not true.”

The bat incident occurred when a teacher admittedly left the door open and a bat flew in behind her, said Stevens.

“I think there’s a lack of communications. There’s enough blame for everyone; we’re not perfect,” said Stevens. “My goal is try to respond to the parents’ requests—to try and give them an answer. Now, understanding that they may not like the answer we give them, we have an obligation to the parents and to everyone in Hopkins County to try to solve the problems or give them an answer that is reasonable. It is my hope and belief that there needs to be a new school or a major renovation in Hanson. Basically, as we go through this process, then the Board will determine which is the best avenue, because we do not know how the rating scale will go. My main concern is having a good learning environment—a safe and clean learning environment—for our students, because the most important thing this community has is our students. We have an obligation, and I take it very seriously, to try to do the very best for our students with the resources we have.”

Luke Short

© Copyright 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story by using one of the social media links below.

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