ECS board OKs Cyclone Center funding, tables lease

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Elizabethton City Schools' Early Childhood Learning Program has new life, new dollars and a new home in the Elizabethton Boys and Girls Club.
  The ECS Board of Education voted 4-0 at Thursday night's meeting approving a grant through the Tennessee Department of Education that appropriates $195,000 in funding for the Early Childhood Program. While not fully funding the program, the grant marks an increase in state funding over previous years.
  "This grant does not fully fund the Cyclone Center," ECS Superintendent Dr. David Roper told board members. "It comes closer to doing it than we have in the past because it is more money."
  The program offers pre-kindergarten education to dozens of city and county children including special education services and free breakfast meals. Formerly housed in an office building on Bemberg Avenue owned by Mountain States Health Alliance, the program's Cyclone Center home was forced to relocate when MSHA ended the lease to open up physicians practice space.
  The grant requires the school system to pony up matching dollars totaling $207,261. The program's additional funds come from a combination of state and federal money including grants and Title I dollars. The grant assists paying salaries, leasing costs, and employee benefits and taxes incurred from the program. The contract extends from July 1 to June 30, 2005.
  A lease agreement on Thursday's agenda between the school system and the Boys and Girls Club will likely wait until next month's board meeting before winning approval. Board members Catherine Armstrong and Dr. Jonathan Bremer requested the opportunity to review the 30-page lease between the school system and the club before approving the agreement. Of the four board members present, only board chairman Dr. Bob Sams said he had reviewed the lease.
  "I don't think we should ask the board to vote on it unless we know what's in it," said Bremer. "If you are voting on the document, you want to know what is in the document."
  A motion made by Armstrong and seconded by Bremer to table the resolution failed when Sams and vice chair Judy Richardson voted against it. The resolution then failed when the board deadlocked 2-2 with Armstrong and Bremer voting against approving the lease.
  Roper said the lease agreement essentially mirrored the existing agreement the system had with MSHA. Annual rent under the occupancy lease with the club including pro rated utility costs was estimated at $38,431.
  Program director Adeline Hyder said the lease had been signed with the club providing custodial services and permitting equipment storage for the program. She said additional smoke alarms and an inspection for the presence of asbestos in the new site were the remaining issues facing the system before moving into the new space.
  Roper said after the meeting that the delay should not affect the program's ability to open before the new school year begins.
  "Fortunately, the students at the Cyclone Center do not start as early as other students," he said. "Hopefully, it will give us some of time to get board approval."
  In other business, the board also opted to reconsider a resolution that its own state association opined was passed improperly at its June 17 meeting. At that meeting, a resolution to adopt a monthly schedule to review existing board policies came to a vote with only Armstrong, Sams and Richardson in attendance. The board voted 2-1 with Armstrong voting no on the resolution.
  While other board members felt the measure was approved, Armstrong argued the resolution did not pass and the vote violated state law since a majority of the entire board, not just a majority of the quorum present, did not approve it. In a letter to Armstrong and the board, Tennessee School Boards Association legal analyst Vickie P. Hall referencing state law wrote that in order for a school board to transact business, a legitimate vote required the majority of the total board membership and not a merely majority of members present.
  The board voted 3-1 Thursday night approving the resolution with Armstrong voting no.
  Roper also announced his selections for newly defined administrative positions in the system's central office. Hyder, the system's current director of vocational education, will add oversight of federal programs and early learning services to her job description.
  Interim director of curriculum Patrick Little was named director of special education, testing and guidance services while John Hutchins moves from his post as principal at Harold McCormick Elementary to director of professional, administrative, and community services.
  "It was a hard place to leave," said Hutchins of his move from the school to the central office. "The parents and the staff were wonderful and I know being there made me a better person."
  Roper announced plans in June to restructure the ECS central office and consolidate several administrative responsibilities into three existing administrative positions. The principal's position at Harold McCormick is now posted for applicants with the school system.