Second grade to Lawhon in school merger

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The consolidation of Carver and Church Street elementary schools will proceed this fall with second-grade students being sent to Lawhon Elementary.
During a specially called meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Tupelo’s school board unanimously approved the configuration, placing kindergartners and first-graders at Carver. The move will be a temporary one while the Tupelo Public School District constructs a permanent facility for Carver and Church Street students.
The school district will immediately begin working toward that facility. It may add a building on either the Carver or Church Street campuses or build a new school, interim superintendent David Meadows said, noting that a facility could be ready in 18 to 24 months.
Lawhon has been used a third- to fifth-grade feeder school for both Carver and Church Street elementary schools, which had been kindergarten to second-grade schools.
The board had voted in March to consolidate the schools, Tupelo’s two smallest, in order to provide better services. The original plan was to use portable classrooms on Carver’s campus to help accommodate roughly 440 students, but the district learned last week that the cost of those classrooms and the site work they would require could cost at least $500,000 more than it had budgeted.
TPSD Executive Director of Operations Julie Hinds said on Wednesday that by negotiating with the contractor, the district could probably reduce that cost to about $1.1 million, a savings of roughly $300,000. That would still be about $200,000 over budget.
The school board rejected those bids on Wednesday, instead opting to use its construction money toward a more permanent solution.
“We will be able to take the $1.2 million we were going to spend on a temporary option and use that for permanent buildings,” school board President Amy Heyer said.
“We made a commitment to the community to combine those student populations, and the best way to do that is to use that money for a permanent building.”
Meadows recommended the use of Lawhon for second grade.
“It is not as simple as thinking about students at Carver and Church Street. It is thinking about the whole district,” he said.
Lawhon Principal Christy Carroll, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, said that her school would not have any trouble accommodating the approximately 160 second-grade students it would receive. She said that the school would be able to separate the second- and third-grade students from the fourth- and fifth-graders throughout the day.
The second- and third-grade classrooms will be in a separate building and those grades also will have their own playground.
Carroll said the school had extra space that it was using for labs and intervention classrooms, but added that it still will be able to find space for those things. The school’s new enrollment will be about 600.
“I think it is a great opportunity for third-grade teachers to work with second-grade students a year earlier,” Carroll said. “It shouldn’t be hard for parents because many of them have students at Lawhon already.”
The district plans to meet with second-grade parents to discuss the relocation plans and to allow students and parents to tour Lawhon.
The school district annually budgets $1.4 million for construction projects and has an additional $2.275 million available for such projects, Meadows said. That means that over the next two years, the district would have about $5 million available, but it will need some of that money for other projects in the district.
Finance Director Linda Pannell said the district won’t be able to borrow any money until the 2016-17 school year, when existing debt rolls off the books. Meadows said the current climate would not be good for a bond issue.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.