Hawkins BOE votes to move Keplar fourth- and fifth-graders to Hawkins Elementary

Jeff Bobo • Jul 15, 2019 at 12:47 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The 38 fourth- and fifth-grade students who ordinarily would attend Keplar Elementary this school year will instead be bused to Hawkins Elementary in Rogersville as a cost savings move to offset a school funding cut proposed by the Hawkins County Commission.

On Monday, the Hawkins County Board of Education voted 5-1 not to rehire the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers who retired from Keplar at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The move was in response to a county commission proposal to reduce the school system’s property tax revenue allocation by 2 cents.

The state told Hawkins County it could cut the school property tax allocation by up to 3 cents without affecting maintenance of effort regulations due to lower school enrollment. The Budget Committee voted to cut it by 2 cents earlier this month, but the final budget has not yet been approved.

That 2 cents amounts to a total of $205,000, although property tax revenue allocated to the county school general fund is shared with the Kingsport and Rogersville city school systems based on student population ratios.

The actual funding loss to the county school system is $175,000, with the other $30,000 loss being divided between Kingsport and Rogersville.

The BOE voted Thursday in favor of a revised 2019-20 budget accounting for that $175,000 revenue reduction, as well as another $31,000 revenue reduction due to a BEP calculation based on revised average daily attendance (ADA) figures received from the state.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the BOE Thursday that cutting Keplar’s fourth- and fifth-grade teaching positions will offset “a large portion” of the $175,000 being cut by the county commission.

Hixson noted that the decision to eliminate those two teaching positions had to be made at Thursday’s school board meeting because the BOE won’t meet again before the first day of school Aug. 5. Candidates for those two positions had been interviewed, but the jobs hadn’t been offered, and as a result of Thursday’s decision, those two positions will be eliminated. 

Last year, Keplar had an enrollment of 94 students. The number of students affected are 15 in fourth grade and 23 in fifth grade. Hixson said there is room for those students in Hawkins Elementary classrooms.

Keplar is located in a rural area about seven miles southeast of Rogersville, although the community it serves extends all the way to the Sullivan County line in far south central Hawkins County. 

Middle and high school students from the Keplar community are already bused to Rogersville, and Hixson noted that those buses aren’t full, so the additional students will likely be placed on those buses.

The BOE also agreed to give Keplar parents the option of enrolling their students at McPheeters Bend, Surgoinsville, or another elementary school in the county system, although they would have to provide transportation.

With the elimination of those two grades, Hixson said the K-3 Keplar would have an enrollment of about 50 students. Keplar’s incoming kindergarten class currently has only nine students registered.

Hawkins County’s two smallest schools, Keplar and McPheeters Bend Elementary, have been proposed in recent years for possible closure due to low enrollment and the cost of maintaining their aging facilities. Both schools had dipped below 100 enrollment in recent years, which means they aren’t fully funded by the state.

However, residents of both communities have come out in force in the past to express opposition to closing their schools. The pointed out that both schools have historically scored well academically, which they attribute to the more personal attention students receive in a small school atmosphere. 

Hixson said he wanted to make sure parents understand Thursday’s action was not to close the school. He will schedule a meeting at Keplar to notify parents personally about the change, and any parents who can’t attend the meeting will be contacted individually.

The only no vote was cast by Tecky Hicks, who said the board can expect to “catch Hades over moving those school kids from Keplar.”

“It’s not going to be a pretty thing, I don’t think, because it’s never been pretty before,” Hicks noted.

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