Fort Craig’s future: Will school become victim of ‘desperate times call for desperate measures?’

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, a kindergarten through fourth grade Maryville city school, may be closed due to funding issues associated with overcrowding at Maryville High School and the opening of the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, a kindergarten through fourth grade Maryville city school, may be closed due to funding issues associated with overcrowding at Maryville High School and the opening of the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School.

Maryville City Manager Greg McClain stressed Thursday that the proposal to close Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, “is not a done deal.”

The option to close the school was one of the alternatives presented Thursday by city school officials to the Maryville City Council during a joint work session with the Maryville City School Board.

The combined work session was for the school system to explain the proposal for dealing with overcrowding at Maryville High School by reconfiguring the grades. The ninth grade would be moved to the middle school with the eighth grade. Maryville Intermediate and the new Coulter Grove Intermediate schools would have either fourth through seventh grades or one would have fourth and fifth and the other sixth and seventh. The elementary schools would all have Kindergarten through third grades.

Schools director Stephanie Thompson said closing Fort Craig to help deal with funding issues wasn’t an official proposal but was part of a presentation of options the school system is looking at to open Coulter Grove and deal with overcrowding at Maryville High School.

“We don’t know if this is going to happen. This is information we presented to the city council. The school board will have to vote on the configuration in December, and sometime in January or February, city council will decide what level of funding they’ll be able to come up with to open the new school. At that point it will determine what we do,” she said. “It is a funding issue – we have to open our new school because it has a 900-student capacity, and in order to meet the needs of the elementary and high school, it is imperative to get Coulter Grove open.”

The new grade configuration is also central to the plan. “In order to do those grade configuration changes, we have to have Coulter Grove operational,” Thompson said. “Today we presented all information about the facilities master plan, what we have accomplished and the projections for the next 20 years.”

Thompson said the information they shared was what it would cost to open Coulter Grove as a fourth through seventh grade school. Opening Coulter Grove with no other changes would cost $1.8 million, according to McClain. Thompson said the system personnel looked for options if that money wasn’t going to be available.

“If we did not have funding to open Coulter Grove, we could close Fort Craig for a few years until our elementary enrollment picked back up and started filling other schools,” Thompson said. “That would be a temporary fix depending on what our elementary enrollment would be. Right now we’re basing it on kindergarten projections and on history. We would have to have additional elementary space by 2018.”

McClain said the school board has not made a decision yet regarding closing Fort Craig. “There is more discussion to take place,” he said. “I don’t want folks to think I’ve adopted the notion that that is the only option. It may not happen.”

McClain said that when the school board and city council were discussing the federal Recovery Act loan to build Coulter Grove School a year ago, they knew it was a step of faith. “They were still going to have opening the school as an issue, because we had not raised taxes needed to open the school,” he said. “We had taxes raised to cover the capital, but we knew a tax increase would be needed to fund the operational piece. The city council told the school board the economy may not be better , and it may be difficult to raise taxes. That’s why the school board has been looking at every alternative to opening Coulter Grove with a minimal tax impact.”

McClain said it is the wrong time to put more tax burdens on citizens or the business community. “Two things have collided: The need to not raise taxes and the need to open the school have come together,” he said. “City council has been very clear that before we raise taxes to open the school, the school board needs to look at every possible option for opening that school without a tax increase.

“Pulling fourth grade out of the elementary schools and into the intermediate schools, pulling ninth out of the high school and putting it with sixth and seventh grades in the middle is an option that actually allows you to close one school, in this case Fort Craig, and it work. You have space for everyone for at least the next two or three years, and you would have space in every grade,” McClain said.

McClain said the school board and city council are both trying to work toward not putting any more of a tax burden on residents and businesses, on getting Coulter Grove open and on relieving over-crowding in the high school. “The City Council would support (the school board) getting Coulter Grove open, but at the same time, they want to make sure the impact to citizens and business community is minuscule,” he said. “The difference between closing Fort Craig and not closing Fort Craig is about an additional $1 million.”

Even with closing Fort Craig, the school system is proposing an increase on property taxes. McClain said the school system presented city council and the school board with estimates on how much property taxes might have to be raised to cover opening the new school. “If you close Fort Craig, they are saying it would take $800,000 or 11 cents on the tax rate. If you leave Fort Craig open and open Coulter Grove, it would be $1.8 million or 24 cents on the tax rate. The tax rate now is 2.17 per $100 of assessed value.”

McClain said 1 cent on the tax rate equals about $77,000.

McClain said that Fort Craig is a very popular school. “I think if you remove the fact that it is a popular program, and you look at it at face value, if you can configure the grades, and, at the end of the day, minimize the tax rate impact, shouldn’t we do it? Isn’t that the responsible thing to do?” he said.

“The fact Fort Craig winds up being impacted is tragic, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

The city manager said it is the school board’s responsibility to look at every option. “They’ve done that, and in these tough times, hard decisions are going to be made, and people are going to be affected,” he said. “We should be thankful that they are taking so much time and effort to minimize its effect for the overall good.”

The school board will vote at their Dec. 13 meeting regarding reconfiguring the grades. Then, in either January or February, the city council will vote on how to fund the Coulter School opening and the reconfiguration.

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Comments » 9

jameso writes:

I strongly oppose any plan to close Fort Craig Elementary School. Fort Craig is a great school in a great school system. As Greg McClain stated Fort Craig is a very popular school. It is popular because it provides a valuable service to our community, an excellent educational experience for our children, the future workers and leaders in this community. Unfortunately great schools, parks, libraries and other public services cost money. An under funded school system that cuts corners and crams ever more children into fewer schools does not save money long term. Rather it produces an enviroment where employers cannot find qualified, trained and skilled employees. When you focus only on the money and not quality, you get plans that cut great schools and stuff 4th graders into schools with 7th Graders. Skimping on education kills investment in our community and jobs, and damages our kids.

McClain claims desperation will force us to close Fort Craig and sacrifice quality education. It is true that no one wants to pay higher taxes. However, if McClain's numbers are right, we face an 11-cent tax rate increase or a 24-cent tax increase. With the 11-cent increase we gain Coulter Grove but lose Fort Craig. At 24 cents, we keep a great school Fort Craig and get a new Coulter Grove. In practical dollars that means a person with a $100,000 home pays an extra two bucks a month to save Fort Craig and open Coulter Grove. Yes, times are hard, but not so desperate that we cannot invest two dollars for our children.

Floydthebarber writes:

You might want to check your math agian jameso. The tax increase is comming with or without Ft. Craig.

MrBuds writes:

Respectfully Floyd, you should re-read his comment. He said we will incur an 11 percent increase if Fort Craig closes and a 24 percent increase if we do not close it. Either way, our taxes increase. Thank you Jameso for putting the financial impact in perspective. I spend more than my potential tax increase at Starbucks each week. I will gladly give up my Latte if it means my child continues to get the top notch education Maryville is known for. Furthermore, I will pay double that if it means Fort Craig is preserved. I urge everyone to visit the Maryville City Schools website and look over the powerpoint under the Master Planning tab. This plan affects all the schools in our system. Some it affects by displacing its students and disrupting their current curriculum, some it affects by increasing classroom numbers, and all will be affected by a change in dynamic. It is also worth noting that the current projections show that with the closure of Fort Craig, the other 3 remaining elementary schools in the district will reach max capacity within 10 years. Then what?

Floydthebarber writes:

Oh gosh MrBuds, I am for keeping Ft. Craig too! It's a great school and I was only making a point that we will have a tax increase regardless of this issue. Ft. Craig teachers and administration ROCK!!!

Solomon writes:

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning is a crown jewel in the Maryville City School system. I remember a channel 10 hometown broadcast on the effectiveness of the FCSDL model. TCAP scores from FCSDL stand as some of the best in Tennessee throughout it's existence.

The current Maryville School Board and administration seem more interested in social issues than educational issues. This alarming trend has not gone unnoticed. Maryville High School this year has eliminated the evil football homecoming queen, proposed changing the MHS fight song, and recently had a great send off for the MHS football team by having an "after school" pep rally. A novel idea, with the exception that more than half the student body has a bus to catch after school.

So as Maryville City schools just "settles" into areas of just getting by, parents with school aged students become more alarmed. As extracirricular activities are abolished, parental involvement is not encouraged, social agendas are rammed down the throats of students and parents in the high school setting, and as outstanding educational opportunities are taken away by the potential closing of FCSDL, I would not be surprised to see concerned citizens continue to voice their displeasure.

As a result, I would personally not be surprised, as has already happened in west Knoxville numerous times, the opening of a major private school in Maryville. Then the need for additional administration, teachers, and even buildings would be totally null and void.

Floydthebarber writes:

Let's not forget that our State Representatives and Senator fought hard to get the interest free loans to build Coulter Grove School because of over crowding in our system. Do you think they will be able to get this kind of funding again? The Board of Education could be making A BIG MISTAKE!

Manfrommaryville writes:

Looking at the presentations that were given, it looks to me like the big savings from 'closing' Ft.Craig are really achieved by moving the staff to Coulter instead of hiring a completely new staff. If this is the case then it seems it would be even more efficient to close one of the bigger elementary schools and move it's staff. From the presentation it looks like Sam Houston has a large staff and is in need of more repairs than Ft.Craig. Or if there was room, move both to the new school. This would give you the best utilization of the new facility and potentially minimize all of the grade shuffling.

teamplayer23 writes:

The plain truth is that Maryville needs four elementary schools to continue the level of education we have come to expect. Our School Board is trying to turn the focus of our current dilema to "the Ft. Craig issue" so that we don't notice the rest of the mess they are about to create. There is no longer a need to move the 4th graders out of the elementary schools. We've spent ao long talking about the schools being overcrowded that the "bubble" of kids is currently in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. The idea of having 4th-7th grade in one school is ridiculous and needs to be reconsidered. The School Board needs to fix the problem where the problem exists....in the High School. The current plan will require major changes ifn every school in this city and create undue transitions for the kids.

sunshine writes:

in response to Solomon:

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning is a crown jewel in the Maryville City School system. I remember a channel 10 hometown broadcast on the effectiveness of the FCSDL model. TCAP scores from FCSDL stand as some of the best in Tennessee throughout it's existence.

The current Maryville School Board and administration seem more interested in social issues than educational issues. This alarming trend has not gone unnoticed. Maryville High School this year has eliminated the evil football homecoming queen, proposed changing the MHS fight song, and recently had a great send off for the MHS football team by having an "after school" pep rally. A novel idea, with the exception that more than half the student body has a bus to catch after school.

So as Maryville City schools just "settles" into areas of just getting by, parents with school aged students become more alarmed. As extracirricular activities are abolished, parental involvement is not encouraged, social agendas are rammed down the throats of students and parents in the high school setting, and as outstanding educational opportunities are taken away by the potential closing of FCSDL, I would not be surprised to see concerned citizens continue to voice their displeasure.

As a result, I would personally not be surprised, as has already happened in west Knoxville numerous times, the opening of a major private school in Maryville. Then the need for additional administration, teachers, and even buildings would be totally null and void.

Homecoming queen didn't occur because of student apathy. No one wanted to run for it.
Maryville spends $250,000 out of the "bare bones" budget to pay supplements to athletic coaches, and average of $300 per student athlete.
Most kids hate the pep rallys because they are so crowded and, believe it or not, many don't really care about the FB team.
What is the MHS fight song?

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