(Frankfort, KY) - Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled today that the Graves County Board of Education had the discretion to decide to close Cuba Elementary School. A lawsuit was brought by Josh Cherry, Richard Jackson, William Bell and Larry Dale Shelby, all Graves County citizens to stop the closure. Plaintiffs argued that the closure did not follow state law. The Court disagreed.
Cuba Elementary School now sits empty.
With no objection from the Court, the Board reassigned students and teachers to other schools in the district at the end of the past school year. However, a temporary restraining order prevented the Board from holding an auction and selling off the school, grounds and contents.
Judge Shepherd granted a summary judgment motion of the Defendant Board in an order that explained that the District Facilities Plan (DFP) that Plaintiffs argued must be changed before the school could be closed was not a bar to closing a school. In its order, the Court said:
"The Board persuasively argues that the DFP is a planning tool to ensure orderly administration of the capital construction needs of the district, but it does not trump the general authority of the school board to make decisions concerning school closure that may arise because of changing demographics, declining school enrollment, or re-allocation of scarce resources when the existing tax base does not support continued operation of all schools designated as of all schools designated as permanent in the DFP."
While the Court recognized the authority of the Board to close the school, the order kept the restraining order in place regarding the sale of the property. The Court said that Plaintiffs "raised legitimate questions as to the procedure employed by the local school board for amending the DFP and declaring the Cuba school as surplus property."
Attorney for the Plaintiff, Jim Deckard, found a bright spot in what must have been a disappointing ruling for supporters of the small, rural school.
"I'm pleased that the Franklin Circuit Court continued the injunction it issued against the Board this summer preventing them from selling Cuba Elementary. The amount of money that the current Board has spent on administrators, bureaucrats and lawyers, none of which goes to the direct education of Graves County's children kids, is appalling. Some transparency for the citizens, and a top to bottom examination of the Board's operations, is needed."
Board Attorney David Hargrove was pleased with the ruling.
"I was not surprised that the Judge ruled in favor of the Graves County School Board in his ruling on summary judgment. The law clearly states that the actions that they took are within their discretion. I was very pleased that the Court recognized that the Board had many legitimate reasons to close Cuba. It was a decision that they did not take lightly and was done with the best interests of all students, including those at Cuba, in mind."
The next steps in the dance that is the closing of a rural school will be what happens to the building and acreage it occupies. The Board's argument that the school needed prohibitively expensive repairs - a new roof and heating and air conditioning system - may depress interest in purchasing the facility.
No one will know the final fate of Cuba Elementary right away. Its future may well depend on the mood of the voters of Graves County.
The election on November 4th could prove costly for Board members who voted to close the school after an attempt to increase property taxes failed miserably at the polls. Board seats are being contested this cycle.