By Bill Short
The Millington School Board voted last week to close E. A. Harrold Elementary on a date that has not yet been determined.
Board members took the action during a March 10 special called meeting on a 4-3 vote, with Cody Childress, C. J. Haley and Chairman Larry Jackson dissenting.
The meeting was held in the Millington Performing Arts Center shortly after a 90-minute Community Forum was conducted to allow parents, teachers and students to express their opinions on the issue.
During discussion shortly before the vote, Childress acknowledged that the board had postponed action on E. A. Harrold for several years. He said that was not its choice, but it had to work with the money that was available.
Although many residents were unhappy that the board built the PAC, Childress said it was following the same plan that the Shelby County School Board had.
“They were going to build a new performing arts center and competition gym before they ever did anything with E. A. Harrold,” he recalled. “We just kind of picked it up from there and did what we could with what we had.”
Childress said some residents have “pointed fingers at the city” regarding the financing.
While noting that Millington is a small town, he said the tax base does not generate the amount of revenue that would be necessary to construct a new school.
“So, to me, pointing fingers at the aldermen is unfair,” he said, “because they’re doing everything they can for us. And we appreciate what they do.”
Childress said he came to the meeting “adamant” that E. A. Harrold had “run its course.” But listening to the parents’ concerns made him think the board could possibly put “a little more money” into the school and “get one more year out of it.”
Board member Mark Coulter said it was “unfair” for the students at E. A. Harrold to be in a “situation” where the board had to make a decision that night.
He said the choice it faced in taking the vote was either to “move forward” or put money into the building. But the “hardest choice” it now must make is what the next step will have to be.
Coulter said students should not be required to sit in classrooms where the temperature is 100 degrees.
“We have seen during the last few weeks that kids are going home complaining that they’re not sure they can pass a test because they’re sweating,” he noted. “So, we do have to look at that.”
During interviews after the meeting, other board members offered their opinions.
Chris Denson said all the data must now be collected to plan how to distribute teachers, students and courses. That requires a knowledge of building capacities and the costs associated with making buildings “fit” for the Pre-K and elementary school students.
Denson said the goal of the current board members who were elected in 2016 has been to “re-prioritize” outside of the PAC that is now complete. So, E. A. Harrold must be the top priority.
If the city is unable to float a $25 million bond issue to construct a new school, Denson said, the next thing to consider is “an overall restructuring” of the school system.
He noted that not all of the elementary school students can be located in Millington Elementary, because that building is not large enough. E. A. Harrold has 400 students, but MES has more than 800, and that is not a 1,200-student building.
Jackson said the board needs to “get a figure” for what it would cost to make E. A. Harrold a “viable” school for not just another year, but to do the necessary improvements to keep it open.
“If E. A. Harrold is closed,” he noted, “those students will have to be accommodated somewhere. So, we’ve got to see how many classrooms we’ve got in each building.”
One thing that can be considered, Jackson said, is to convert the old Freshmen Academy into Millington Middle School and move E. A. Harrold students into the current middle school building.
Childress said he talked recently with Cedric Grey, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ “educational representative,” about seeking “another avenue” for Millington to acquire Lucy Elementary School.
Grey is a former E. A. Harrold student and a graduate of Millington Central High School.
“So, I told him, ‘Your old alma mater is in a death spiral,’” Childress recalled. “We have got to get Lucy Elementary. He said he would try to get traction on it.”
But Childress noted that County School Board member Stephanie Love, whose district includes Lucy Elementary, has “blatantly told us that she’s not interested, and she’s not giving it up.”
Go to: Millington-News.com