A group of disgruntled residents are suing the Graves County Board of Education for allegedly following improper procedures to close Cuba Elementary School.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Franklin County Circuit Court lists the plaintiffs as four “individual citizens and taxpayers” in Graves County.
The suit lists the defendants as school board members, Superintendent Kim Harrison, the board's attorney David Hargrove, as well as Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
The suit says that the "KDE approved the improper acts of the Board as set forth...and is therefore a necessary party to this action."
The board decided to close the school in December due to low enrollment saying it was no longer economically feasible to keep the school open. The complaint alleges that the board did not follow proper measures when changing Cuba’s status from a “permanent” to “transitional” school, making it eligible to closure for fiscal reasons.
Harrison says her district has followed all the guidelines to close the school despite complaints.
“There’s been several complaints all along the way," said Harrison. "We’ve just recently received a letter from the [Kentucky Attorney General's office] that says we have been compliant with all of those regulations, that was probably a week to ten days a go, so we really thought that we were through this.”
(Correction 4/9/2014 : In the interview, Harrison initially cited the letter of compliance as coming from the "Office of Educational Accountability," and not the Attorney General's office. Graves County Schools reached out to WKMS to apologize for the error and corrected the statement.)
The Kentucky School Facilities Planning Manual allows a district to implement a "finding process" to make a minor change to a plan where "1.) the change will not substantially effect the district's needs assessment and 2.) the change only affects one facility." That's how the school re-designated the school's status as transitional.
The suit says the board was not authorized to use a finding process and so the final re-designation was improper, but Harrison says that the board's decision was by the book.
"That process is the process you follow when you are looking at closing a school due to pupil expenditures and the financial costs that isn’t there," said Harrison. "The enrollment at Cuba has been below 200 for the last five to seven years, it’s at 155 right now. There’s been endeavors and initiatives since 2001 to increase enrollment at Cuba Elementary by redistricting some of Wingo’s students and Sedalia’s students to move there. This is all about per pupil spending, and this is the procedure you follow when you look to close a school for fiscal reasons."
In November, Graves County residents weighed-in on a proposed property tax hike to allow the school district to qualify for a state matching grant that would allocate funding for much-needed facility repairs at school sites. The initiative ultimately failed.
"We are regretting closing Cuba Elementary, however that tax increase would have created more revenue in our district for all functions," said Harrison. "There have been budget cut backs from the state and federal government for the last four to five years and this was just a necessary efficiency decision to run the district more feasibly."
Harrison says the board’s attorney David Hargrove has not yet officially received the lawsuit but when he does the school board will follow all appropriate legal procedures
The elementary school is set to be closed June 30th and will be auctioned off as surplus property shortly after. The 155 students presently enrolled will be filtered into Wingo and Sedalia schools.
Calls for comment from the plaintiffs’ attorneys were not returned Thursday.