School board addressing Greenback school

Members say building new facility overdue

By Hugh G. Willett,

Several newly elected members of the Loudon County school board already are working together to address issues raised during the election, particularly the needs of the Greenback community.

Lisa Russell, who is replacing longtime Greenback board member Larry Bass, will not be sworn in until Monday, but she knows exactly what her priorities will be.

"We have to get this building program started," she said.

Russell is preparing to present a proposal at the first school board meeting in September that would allow the county to break ground for a new school in Greenback before the end of the year.

New board member Van Shaver, who took over the 5th District seat from June Klinstiver, said he agrees with Russell that Greenback should be the priority and that work should begin as soon as possible. "I want to see dirt moving over at Greenback in the next couple of months," he said.

Shaver and Russell visited Greenback earlier this week to look at the site selected for the new school. Both are in favor of building a new school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on the site, possibly using some parts of the older facility.

The plans for a new school in Greenback have been languishing for almost three years, even though multiple studies have indicated the current building is unsafe and outdated.

Some say the delays are for political reasons; others say lack of funding makes it hard to justify a new high school in Greenback for just 200 high school students. One alternative that has been proposed is a new regional high school in the north end of the county.

Board member Bill Marcus from Loudon, one of only two incumbents re-elected last week, has expressed concern about whether the pre-K-to-12 model should be continued at Greenback.

Marcus also said he is concerned that the school system make the best use of its current resources, including the parts of the Greenback school that have been renovated recently.

Russell has been gathering research about the performance of smaller schools and believes there is no reason not to maintain the pre-K-to-12 organization that has historically existed at the school.

"Prove to me it doesn't work," Russell said. "I'll prove to you that it does work."

Shaver and Russell both believe there is no reason that providing such a small number of students with a quality education has to cost more per student than a larger number.

Competing projects, such as the expansion of Loudon Elementary School, have created a difference of opinion on the board about which schools should be upgraded or replaced first.

Gary Ubben, a University of Tennessee professor of education who is replacing Freddie Gene Walker on the board, said he agrees the school building program is a top concern, but he hasn't decided on the priorities yet.

Ubben said he has experience with the pre-K-to-12 school model in Nebraska, where it appears to serve the needs of communities. What's more important, he said, is making the right choice based on several factors, including community needs, cost and quality of education.

"I want to look at all the alternatives and what the costs will be," Ubben said.

Ubben said he wants to make sure that, if parts of the Greenback school are salvageable, they are preserved to make best use of the funding available.

He said he is not inclined to support the concept of busing the Greenback students to a new regional high school because of the cost of fuel.