BES fears aired by parents
A group of concerned parents attended the county commission meeting last Thursday to ask commissioners to help with the conditions at Benton Elementary School
A group of concerned parents attended the county commission meeting last Thursday to ask commissioners to help with the conditions at Benton Elementary School. Talk of rainwater pouring into the building as well as sinus and asthma problems occurring only during the school year were reported. Commissioners explained they had not been approached by the school board about the issue and had only learned of the need for a new roof by reading it in the local newspaper.
Roberta Campbell addressed the board saying she was shocked when she went to the school in January to find the roof was not just leaking, but it was raining inside the building. She said she was not at the meeting to speak for the commission, school board, or the group, but to be a voice for the children. She said when she became aware of the problem, she called the White House in an attempt to speak to Vice President Joe Biden. She felt the President was probably too busy.
Campbell said she spoke with a switchboard operator who listened to her dilemma and told her to write a letter and talk to the state because it was ultimately a state issue. She said it was up to us on a local level and issued a plea to help the children. She said she felt the school was beyond repair because nothing had been done for so long.
Amanda Hawkins told commissioners she had to give her daughter four medicines before school and her daughter also needed to use an inhaler because of the environment inside the building. She said her daughter takes no allergy medicine in the summer. Hawkins said her older daughter had the same issue until she got into the high school, and has no problems now. She said we had great educators and the students deserve to go to school in a safe environment.
Brenda Kirkland said she had 5-year-old twins who both need nasal spray, allergy medications, and were frequently on antibiotics. She said her children also had no issues in the summer. She said the conditions were not good for the children or teachers, adding, “it’s unfair to the children who can’t learn because they are coughing too much.” Kirkland pointed out that many parents can’t afford medications for their children.
Commissioner John Pippenger said he had received a copy of a report from the Fire Marshall from a parent, but had gotten nothing from the School Board. Commissioner Greg Brooks said if there was an immediate danger of the roof falling, the Fire Marshall would have condemned it.
Pippenger said he had heard about the roof in general terms, but had heard nothing official. Brooks said they were all clueless and pointed out that of nine school board members, only one (Shawn Pritchett) had come to the meeting, and it was not even his district. Sheena Gaddis said she, too, only learned about the issue in the Polk County News. Pippenger said they had not seen the estimates for repair and had no idea if there was damage to structural walls. Mike Curbow, Chairman of the Building Committee, said they were in process of setting up a walk through of the building.
Pippenger said the report from the Fire Marshall stressed maintenance needed to be done on the roof. Campbell said maintenance workers had told her they were afraid to put more tar on the roof. Pippenger clarified there was routine maintenance that needed to be done to roofs, particularly if a new roof is installed. He said these types of roofs required regular seal coatings and other maintenance other than patchwork.
Commissioner Buster Bramblett said the School Board and Administration have ultimate control and authority and until they came to the commission, there was nothing they could do. He said it would be like him deciding his neighbor needed to paint their house and doing it himself.
Hawkins said they wanted to make sure the commissioners were aware of the problem when it came to them. Brooks asked if the parents were familiar with the School Board’s budget and how they were spending their money. Kirkland said she was new here and was not, but intended to learn more. She said she would like to see a new school for the students. Brooks said he knew first-hand about money being put into a line item for maintenance and repairs, but the school board could move money out of that line by a majority vote.
Questions were raised about a sales tax referendum that was voted down last year. Commissioners were asked if they would put it back on the ballot if the group could educate people on what it was for and get it passed. Comments were made that when the sales tax was put on the ballot with proceeds to go toward the school system, no one from the school board or school system made an effort to promote the tax. Brooks said Cleveland City schools were able to get a referendum passed by advertising it in the Cleveland paper and making sure voters knew it was for the schools. The commission said if the school board asked them to, they would gladly put a sales tax referendum back on the ballot.
Kirkland said she was working on putting together a fundraiser concert for the schools that would be held in Cleveland. Brooks said he was in agreement with everything said except having a fundraiser in Cleveland. He said there are probably places locally to host the event.
Campbell asked the commission if they would put in a wheel tax to pay for building new schools. Pippenger said a sales tax would mean people from outside the county would be paying the tax as well.
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