July 31, 2019

Community challenges Shady Valley decision

Johnson County residents attend a meeting last week at Shady Valley Elementary School to discuss the school board’s recent controversial decision of downsizing enrolment for the 2019-2020 school year. The conference was organized by Shady Valley parent, Ashley Worlock, and welcomed local school board officials and government leaders. Photos by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens
FREELANCE WRITER

Concerned citizens from around the Johnson County area gathered at Shady Valley Elementary on Thursday, July 26 to discuss the School Board’s recent decision to downsize the school from a Pre-K-6 establishment to a K-5 establishment for the 2019-2020 school year. Officials in attendance included County Mayor Mike Taylor, Sheriff Eddie Tester, Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox, Elementary and Federal Programs Supervisor Angie Wills, Finance Director Tina Lipford, Board member Kevin Long, Board member Gary Matheson, Board Secretary Serena Warren, and Johnson County Schools Secondary Supervisor Dr. Stephen Long.

Consent and notification are the strongest points of contention. Parents such as retired military Major Ashley Worlock, who is leading the charge, seemed most upset about how they found out the news.
While these parents heard about the downsizing through others in the community, Pre-k parents said that they have still not received official notification.

“They did this without discussing it with the community, the parents, etc.,” said Worlock. “They have the authority to close, consolidate, and build, but our rights were violated.”

According to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also known as the Sunshine Law, the School board must make the public aware of meetings. Currently, the administration posts notices at Central Office and the Johnson County Courthouse. Concerned citizens, such as mother Logan Meredith who enrolled her daughter in Shady’s Pre-K, say that this placement is inadequate due to building hours that clash with work hours. Worlock suggests sending call-outs through the already established system used by Johnson County Schools. Simcox assured the public that this information will now be available on the Johnson County Schools website (jocoed.net) and Facebook.

Mother and retired military Major Ashley Worlock shares her findings, thoughts, and concerns with the public. Worlock has spoken to many local officials and has been researching for the last few weeks.

“You don’t know you have a problem until there is a problem,” Board member Kevin Long explained to the crowd. “Now that we know, we can take steps to correct the issue.

According to the Johnson County Board of Education’s Board Community Relations (Policy 1.5), “In order to promote school-community interaction relating to the policy and operation of the schools, the Board will: 1. Strive to keep citizens of the school system regularly informed about all policies, problems and planning through channels of communication, its own efforts, and the office of the director of schools;”

“I think we all can agree here that they failed to do that,” said Worlock about Policy 1.5. “Especially over something as serious as this.”

According to Simcox, Shady Valley Elementary was not singled out. Enrollment is on the agenda every June, and 17 students were sent from Mountain City Elementary to Roan Creek Elementary for the 2019-2020 schoolyear. Both this change and the Shady Valley Elementary change stem from redistricting. Elementary schools were affected by redistricting in a similar case three years ago.

Worlock was also concerned about the Board’s accounting. The Johnson County Per Student Expenditure 2019-2020 spreadsheet, which calculates expense by student population, reportedly carried faulty math. Lipford agreed and acknowledged the mistake and that this spreadsheet was not present at the June meeting where their decision took place. The Board’s original estimate for Shady Valley Elementary was $15,021.81 per student; they updated this number to $18,130.26 per student as of July 23, 2019. But when following the spreadsheet, Worlock, who boasts a background in math and engineering, found that estimate to be $12,219 per student. Worlock and Lipford plan to meet to discuss from where the additional $5,911.26 stems. Outside sources of funding such as Shady Valley’s annual Cranberry Festival are not considered in these numbers.

It is noteworthy that much of the public concern stems from rumors about Shady Valley Elementary closing; the rumors have been prevalent for years. Long set the record straight emphasizing that the only discussion on closing Shady was in the previous administration and has never been brought up again.

“This is hard on everyone,” said Simcox.”I know it’s really hard on you all, and we do apologize for that. We do have an open door. Any questions you have, we’ll be happy to answer and give you the facts. All you have to do is call, or come by any time. Any of us will answer anything you have.”

With more than 150 signatures in her arsenal, Worlock plans to petition the School Board’s June decision. If the cheering crowd is any indication, she has many supporters in the Johnson County Community hoping to compel the Board to call a special session for a re-vote before school starts on August 7, 2019. The Board is willing to meet at Shady Valley Elementary, but Chairman Howard Carlton has the final say. Worlock said, “This is not over.”