The West Point Independent Schools prominently states in its mission that it exists to offer students “a positive learning environment filled with high expectations. Our professional staff is fully qualified with experience levels ranging across the spectrum of their profession.”
But too many vacant teaching positions, financial challenges and test scores which rank among the lowest in the state, places the small district in a very precarious position with the beginning of a new school year just weeks away.
The district serves some 100 or so preschool through eighth-grade students in a single school house in the small northern-most community in Hardin County.
During a special meeting July 2, West Point Board of Education Chairman Eddie Moore warned unless vacant instructional positions are filled, the school could be closed by the Kentucky Department of Education.
Certified instructors were needed for vacant preschool, first-grade, fifth-grade, middle school social studies, science and special education positions. Although the district’s website lists only a physical education instructor among non-instructional staff employment opportunities available, these multiple vacant positions must be filled by the time the new school year begins Aug. 20.
Equally pressing, to balance the school’s 2019-2020 budget the district has to pull $88,000 from its $950,000 in savings. Then comes those low test rankings, classifying the school as a “Comprehensive and Support Improvement School” at the elementary level and a “management audit” of the school by the KDE is scheduled to begin later this month.
With these circumstances in mind, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis describes the small district’s situation as “dire.”
“Their ability to provide the type of experience that kids need is in question,” Lewis said.
He recommends the district merge with Hardin County Schools.
Moore, West Point Superintendent Mickey Brangers and Hardin County Superintendent Teresa Morgan already have met to discuss how such a merger might look. In theory, kindergarten through fifth-graders initially might stay at the school in West Point, sixth- through eighth-graders would go to a HCS middle school and high schoolers would attend North Hardin High School in Radcliff.
Filling open positons with qualified, engaged and effective employees is a challenge for every school district and administrator across the state these days. Retail and service businesses along with industrial manufacturers wrestle with the same challenge. But recruitment of certified instructors becomes far more difficult when questions about a district or school’s viability are present such as these surrounding this tiny district.
West Point is a somewhat isolated community. This circumstance is one reason the independent district has continued to exist for so many years. It’s a significant drive to Radcliff and busing students to another HCS middle and high school will have costs for the district and inconveniences for families involved.
Also, what about the 60-plus year relationship between West Point and Elizabethtown Independent Schools? When West Point stopped offering high school, the district made an arrangement to send its students to Elizabethtown High School.
This long-standing tradition isn’t likely to survive a merger with HCS. Should that occur, current high schoolers should be accommodated and allowed the option to finish with their peers at E’town.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. And these matters and more must quickly be vetted.
But at the end of it all, merging West Point into the HCS district is the most logical course to take and the state’s preference.
As Commissioner Lewis rightly stated, all involved “have to make decisions that put the interest of the students first.” Such a merger with HCS will provide West Point students with a far better educational experience than their small district and community tax base can afford to provide.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.