Greenback Parents Fed Up
Upset with inaction on school, residents seek aid from outside

Friday, September 28, 2007

GREENBACK, Tenn. — Greenback parents impatient with Loudon County’s delay in renovating or replacing the community’s aging school are taking their concerns to elected officials in Nashville and Washington.

Community leaders say there has even been talk of Greenback seceding from Loudon County to become a part of Blount County.

Parent Ron Sabo said he has sent letters seeking help to Gov. Phil Bredesen, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., Sen. Lamar Alexander, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock and state Sen. Randy McNally.

“It’s time for action,” Sabo said.

The future of the school, built in 1939, has been up in the air for years while the school board and Loudon County Commission debate a proposed $105 million capital projects plan.

Greenback enrolls about 700 children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Another sticking point is whether to build one new school or to build a new pre-K-8 school and renovate existing space for high school students only.

Estimates have shifted, but officials say the two-school plan would cost about $32 million — at least $4 million more than keeping all students together — and commissioners likely will weigh the extra expense heavily.

Parents say the existing school is unsafe and in poor repair.

“A teacher was concerned about mold in her classroom. They gave her a bottle of bleach,” said Dawn Russell, who has three children at Greenback and has written Sen. Bob Corker.

She complains of mold in the basement and classrooms, a lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and tap water that runs brown.

Teachers in Greenback admit there is a problem with mold but during a recent tour by the News Sentinel, several would only use the phrase “M-word” to describe the problem.

Among the worst areas are the boys’ locker rooms, Greenback Mayor Tom Peeler said.

“The visiting teams won’t shower in those locker rooms,” he said. “Our own boys don’t want to shower in there, either.”

Sabo said the Greenback school is not equipped to provide a 21st-century education. The library at the high school contains a few hundred books, many published in the 1960s.

Parents are incensed that the commission would consider providing $600,000 for a new library in Tellico Village when school libraries are in such poor shape, Sabo said.

A key problem holding up improvements appears to be the issue of dividing students into two schools.

Superintendent Edward Headlee said most board members who have voted against a two-school plan oppose spending the extra $4 million.

“Everyone in Greenback wants to keep the K-12 school, but that’s not true of everyone on the board,” said school board member Larry Bass, who graduated from Greenback, as did his mother.

According to Peeler, some school board members have indicated they think the high school students are a bad influence on the younger children.

Parents such as Sabo and Russell disagree, saying the current school structure forms the center of the community and that the older children are a good influence on the younger children and a help to the teachers.

A motion to renovate the school as part of a $40 million capital improvement plan failed at a recent school board meeting, some say because the Greenback residents and school board members are at a political impasse.

June Klinstiver, head of the board’s capital projects committee, was unavailable for comment.

County Commissioner Bob Franke said commissioners can’t move forward with school improvements until the school board approves a plan.

His grandson attends Greenback, and he wants improvements to be made.

“We had to fix the ADA problems in the jails, but we haven’t put it in our own schools,” Franke said. “We’re treating our inmates better than our children.”

A study performed by architects from Community Tectonics estimated the cost differential between building one new school for all students and creating separate pre-K-8 and high schools.

Even parents who want the pre-K-12 school are not sure that fighting over the issue is worth the delay.

“They need to come up with a plan and stop listening to all these outside influences,” said Scott Anderson, a parent with three children at Greenback.

Peeler said Greenback has in the past considered joining Blount County, an idea that might seem more attractive to local residents today.

“They don’t seem to have a problem building new schools in Blount County,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents have had some response from outside the county.

Sabo said Bredesen promised to look into the situation. Duncan and Matlock also have responded and promised to help.

McNally said he plans to tour the school in the next month and has supported more pre-K-12 construction funding.

“I supported a bill that would have taken excess lottery revenue and put it toward school construction,” he said.

Peeler said this is not the first time the community has been forced to look beyond Loudon County for help.

“As far as Loudon County is concerned, we’re the stepchildren over in Greenback,” Peeler said. “We feel like we are fighting a losing battle.”