Fire marshal visit leaves board of education with work to do

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By Jennifer Caldwell

A recent visit from the state fire marshal has proven to be quite costly for the Campbell County Board of Education.

During Tuesday evening’s board meeting Dr. Michael Martin, director of schools, informed board members of the news the evaluation completed by the fire marshal didn’t bode well.

 Of the county’s school facilities, the fire marshal found a number of violations that will require attention- some immediately.

While many of the infractions can be rectified with relative ease, the situation at the former East LaFollette Elementary School proved to be the grimmest.

According to Martin, the building that houses the alternative school, adult education programs and a number of other offices garnered three pages of violations from the inspector.  The most grave of these was termed a “life safety violation.”

As a result of this particular violation, Martin told board members he had no choice but to start making plans to relocate all occupants of the facility.

“I have to get the students out,” Martin said of his no nonsense decision.

Martin said his knee-jerk solution to the problem, that was presented not more than a day earlier, is to send alternative school students to the Ridgewood Elementary School facility.

Board member Johnny Byrge responded to Martin’s declaration with concern.

Byrge pointed out relocating the alternative school to Ridgewood would present a transportation issue for many of the students who reside in the central LaFollette area.

 “Is there going to be transportation for these students” Byrge asked Martin.  

The director told Byrge transportation would not be provided at this time.

Board chairman Eugene Lawson suggested the travel hardship created by the distance to the school may prove to be a deterrent to keep kids out of trouble.

“When a parent has to haul a kid that far they are going to be upset and maybe that will curb some of the behavior problems,” Lawson suggested.

Martin conceded the solutions for relocating the alternative school and other programs were still a work in progress and he would need guidance. But his most immediate concern was keeping students and board of education employees safe.

“This is a very frustrating situation for me, but I have got to get all of these people out,” Martin said of his plan to vacate the East LaFollette building by Monday.

In the mean time, the board of education is required to have a fireman on duty at the facility on “fire watch” every hour students are in the building.

Board members also reacted to a resolution recently adopted by the county commission. In it the commission asked state legislators to consider giving counties the option to return to the practice of electing school superintendents. The resolution drafted by the board of education requests the legislature affirm the decision to appoint superintendents, which is part of the Education Improvement Act of 1992.

The board’s resolution maintains appointing superintendents allows counties to choose from a broader pool of qualified candidates and creates accountability and ensures cooperation with the board of education.  The resolution also points out Alabama, Florida and Mississippi are the only states that continue to elect school superintendents.

The motion to send the resolution on to state lawmakers passed despite a no vote from Board member Walt Goins and an abstention from board member Mike Orick.