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Superintendent reviews LPC process, the data reviewed, the concerns considered

By WES BRADLEY
Superintendent, Nelson County Schools

Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, — Not without controversy, the Nelson County Local Planning Committee (LPC) recently approved a draft plan that would unite middle school students on the east and west side at two 6-12 Community Campuses by as early as August 2024. The draft plan also includes major renovations at The New Haven School and Cox’s Creek Elementary, along with advancements at the Area Technology Center.

WES BRADLEY

The plan, only in draft form, is a part of a months-long review process by the LPC, the Nelson County Board of Education, and the state. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the basics with local news readers.

LPC GOALS. Per 702 KAR 4:180, LPC members must consider a number of important factors in determining the best facility plan. I have worked to summarize those factors below.

  • A better education for all
  • More opportunities for more students
  • Better use of tax dollars
  • Where people live

DATA DRIVES THE LPC PROCESS. In regard to middle school teachers and programs, at just 240 students per school, our middle schools are nearly the smallest in Kentucky and the region. In fact, the average middle school enrollment for surrounding districts is 670 students, nearly three times as large.

This reality has limited teachers and programs, not just for our middle school students, but also for students transitioning to build programs in our high schools. The LPC studied this data and many felt strongly that our students and teachers can achieve more through a united model with closer to 500 students in each middle school.

BOSTON AND NEW HAVEN IMPACT. The LPC recognized that Boston and New Haven Middle Schools are particularly disadvantaged under the current model. The two middle schools average less than 120 students and are over five times smaller than the regional average. In turn, each middle school is staffed with four or five teachers based on yearly enrollment. This is simply not enough to sustain academic and athletic programs and allow for teacher resource sharing.

BOTTOM 3% IN STATE FUNDING. Due to the increase in Nelson County property values since 1990, our school system currently receives less state and federal funding than 97% of all other districts statewide. As we discussed at the September tax hearing, in 2021, Nelson County Schools will be operating with nearly $8 million less state funding than we were nearly 15 years ago.

Knowing the long-term impact reduced funding will have on student programs without addressing the districts’ overall costs, many LPC members found it unwise to continue in the current direction long-term.

SMALL SCHOOLS = MORE COSTLY. The district pays staffing, utilities, cleaning, cafeteria, transportation and ongoing maintenance costs out of our annual operating budget. LPC members discussed how having several smaller middle schools meant not only higher costs, but fewer resources for students and teachers in all schools.

SMART USE OF FACILITY TAX DOLLARS. Facility money is limited, and by law, can only be spent on facilities. Ensuring our buildings are used to their full potential is the goal of the LPC. The LPC focused on how facility money can have the greatest long-term impact on learning for the most students possible.

INCREASING PRE-SCHOOL ACCESS. The draft facility plan included a commitment to expanding preschool opportunities in Boston, New Haven, and Bloomfield Elementaries. The LPC viewed this as a wise investment for our county and an added bonus to a united middle school model as classroom space would open up at both Boston and New Haven.

SHIFTING POPULATION. The last decade has continued to see the population growth around Bardstown and along the Louisville Road and KY 245 corridors. The LPC discussed the proximity to middle schools for students living in these growth areas by studying the current impact on distance, time, and costs of transportation.

Community and parent concerns
discussed by LPC

STUDENT SAFETY. Safety and security will always be the number one priority of our schools and families. LPC members, many of whom have children in our schools, shared in this priority and reviewed building designs that would ensure a unique, separate, and safe middle school experience while also allowing for resource sharing. Similarly, the LPC discussed how the Bardstown City Schools has benefited from a united middle and high school campus for the past century.

IMPACT OF CLOSING BLOOMFIELD MIDDLE. It was clear in discussion that LPC members value the importance of small towns and our strong history in Nelson County. This commitment was recognized through a long-term vision for sustaining elementary schools in each of our rural communities. At the same time, members noted that it’s not the primary role of the school district to sustain a given local economy, it is the role of local elected officials and business leaders. To that end, it was important to LPC members that future decisions about school building use include close partnerships with local business and community leaders.

LONG-TERM IMPACT ON TAXES. Much misinformation has spread about the impact of the facility plan on taxes. Facility taxes were levied in 1991, 2001, & 2005 and have contributed to building and remodeling multiple schools since the 1990’s. Building Fund tax rates are fixed and make up just over 15 cents of the total tax rate, whereas General Fund tax rates can vary. Most LPC members recognize that our current facilities model is too costly and addressing these costs is necessary. To this end, a united campus model would save over $2 million in operating costs that could be better spent on students and teachers opportunities across the district.

GRATITUDE. Change involving school closings in small communities is an important and, at times, an emotional issue. I want to thank those who have attended any of the 22 public meetings and spoke at public forums, as they made the process better. I also want to share thanks to the 19 members of the LPC that have given significant time and study to improve educational opportunities for all students across Nelson County.

Chosen by their colleagues, fellow parents, and board members, the 19 members provide diverse voices and strength to the planning process. The LPC is a strong group of community leaders committed to our future.

INCREASING AWARENESS. We live busy lives, and most Nelson Countians are not aware of this information. In fact, we estimate less than 10% of all parents and families and less than 2% of the adult population in Nelson County were able to learn about our facility challenges by attending meetings or reviewing materials at NCSLPC.com. As a district we will continue to find better ways to increase awareness.

WHERE FROM HERE? While TV news and social media continue to thrive on division and conflict, it is clear that the long-term prosperity of communities across our great country will rely upon people working together. The future will reward communities that are working to ensure long-term growth, confronting their current reality, and embracing tough decisions together.

To this end, the Kentucky Department of Education’s United We Learn Vision inspires both direction and hope for our future as a Commonwealth, pointing us further in the direction of community centered schools.

We are fully committed to this work and are so grateful for the hundreds of community and parent partners across Nelson County that are a part of our schools and our student’s lives. Without question, we are better together.

For more detailed information, please visit NCSLPC.com.

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