Legislators leave schools hanging

By Stephen S. Glass
Star Staff

   Earlier this month, administrators for Elizabethton City Schools reported cuts in state funding of $130,000 for extended contracts and enrichment programs. As of Monday, it now appears that Carter County Schools will be facing similar cuts -- in a school year when local financial difficulties have already forced board members to trim the budget by more than $400,000.
   According to Secondary Education Administrator Gary Smith, the school system has received only $48,000 in funds for extended contracts and enrichment programs so far this year -- a significant cut from last year's funds of $313,000 -- and it is unclear whether or not the state intends to send more money later in the school year.
   Smith said the funding cuts have come at the most inopportune time, when new mandates for Gateway Exams are placing increased pressure on educators to push students and to provide remediation for students who are not performing up to the standard.
   According to Smith, the funds being cut are used by the school system for remediation programs to help students who have had difficulty with Gateway Exams -- tests students must pass before they can receive their high school diplomas.
   Smith says that new mandates are "putting teeth in the Gateway Exams" -- requiring that students who began high school this year not just pass a general Gateway Exam, but that they also perform well on course-specific exams for Algebra I, Biology I, and English II.
   If legislators do not send more money soon, the funding cuts will certainly put a crimp in the schools' budget this year, since the system is required to offer individual assistance to students having trouble in specific areas. If, for instance, a student fails the Biology I Gateway Exam, he must be given remedial help from a teacher certified to teach Biology I. Though the schools offer remediation courses during regular school hours, they are required to offer services to students after school and on weekends if parents make a formal request. This legislation makes it increasingly difficult for schools to fund remediation programs, Smith said.
   "This money is being cut by the state, and we have no choice but to somehow make it up," School Board Member Daniel Holder said during yesterday's board meeting.
   In other matters, board members accepted a bid from Kingsport's Armstrong Construction to build a new auxiliary gymnasium at Happy Valley Elementary. At $672,000, Armstrong was the lowest bidder for the project.
   Board members also voted to call a meeting with County Executive Truman Clark to discuss a proposed reapportionment plan that would cut two board members from their ranks. Members said they fear the plan would leave some smaller communities in the county without proper representation.