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County has 'stirred up a nest of Yellow Jackets'

Edneyville Elementary School parents and supporters listen to School Board members during a school meeting Tuesday night. Edneyville Elementary School parents and supporters listen to School Board members during a school meeting Tuesday night.

EDNEYVILLE — Months into a contentious battle with Hendersonville High School graduates, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners appears to have picked a new fight with Edneyville Elementary School and the Edneyville community.

In a letter first reported in the Hendersonville Lightning last week, county commissioners told the School Board that a new Edneyville Elementary was not a priority and added that declining enrollment could lead to closing the school. Instead, commissioners said a new $53 million Hendersonville High School was the top priority. The commissioners’ response overrode a School Board recommendation that has ranked Edneyville Elementary ahead of HHS for at least four years, School Board members told the Edneyville parents on Tuesday night.
“The county commissioners have stirred up a nest of Yellow Jackets,” School Board member Rick Wood said, provoking laughter and applause from 65 parents seated in child-sized chairs in the school library.
Wood and fellow School Board members Ervin Bazzle, Amy Lynn Holt and Josh Houston attended the meeting along with associate schools superintendent John Bryant. Bryant sought to clarify the position of school administrators and their elected bosses on the School Board.
“The board has identified Edneyville Elementary as their top priority for new construction,” Bryant said. “They have maintained that position for new construction here at Edheyville Elementary. That’s been our board’s priority — the need for a new school here in the Edneyville community.”
As for the question he’s heard most in the past week — “Is our school going to close?,” he responded: “I think it’s really important to leave here today knowing there has been no conversation at all by our board or our school system leadership or anyone associated with the school system regarding the closing of Edneyville Elementary at all, zero,” Bryant said.

'A good bit of frustration'

Responding to questions posed by the School Board, the county commissioners on Oct. 11 stood by their decision to proceed with a  plan for "a brand new, state of the art" Hendersonville High School and rejected the School Board's recommendation to move Edneyville Elementary ahead of the controversial HHS decision. If Edneyville remains open, commissioners said, a $9.3 million renovation would be a better option than a new $24 million school. Originally built in 1968 with additions in 1975 and 1981, Edneyville Elementary is in need of major repairs or replacement, the county's architect said. Unlike the HHS fight, where the Alumni Association, school faculty and much of the student body wants to continue using the historic classroom building and auditorium, no one at Tuesday night's meeting argued for saving the deteroriating Edneyville Elementary School.

"There's a good bit of frustration out here," Jerry Lyda, a father of seven and 1989 graduate of Edneyville High School, told the School Board. "We've been patient. We've been told time and time again that you're next. I don't know what good it does to be next because Hendersonville wants a project and Hendersonville always gets whatever they need whenever they need it."
Noting the presence in the room of Don Ward, an Edneyville native and county commissioner in the 1990s, Bazzle recalled ranking school construction needs 20 years ago on a joint committee made up of county commissioners and school board members.
“We started doing this in 1998,” Bazzle said. “We went through a process, all the schools we looked at, we put them in a hierarchy based on different factors. There were three that were left to do.” The three are Balfour, which is being replaced by the Innovative High School at BRCC, Edneyville Elementary and Hendersonville High School.
As for enrollment, Bazzle said projections are hard to pin down, given the community’s population of seasonal farm workers.
“The population in this school fluctuates. It has always fluctuated,” he said. The system tracked where students came from and found that many came from Florida and South Carolina, where they also worked crops. “That’s always a number that changes. … But it hasn’t fluctuated that much in the last four to five years. I do not accept the fact that the numbers do not justify an elementary school.”
“The overriding consideration is, is there a need for a school with 550 students? Yes there is, without a doubt.”
School Board members urged the Edneyville parents to be patient and vowed to fight with them to “Save Edneyville Elementary,” as a letterhead said on top of the parent meeting agenda.

'We'll fight for your school'

“I can see why you’re concerned because in their letter to us it does say (enrollment projections are) raising doubts about the need for that school,” Wood said.
Wood reminded the parents that his wife had taught at Edneyville Elementary for 11 years and he had taught at Edneyville High School.
“I know firsthand the pride that you take in your community, in your schools, your churches,” he said. “I know some of you are still hurting about losing your high school. Believe me, we’ll fight for your school. You’ve made remarkable progress in the last two or three years here.”
Houston also pledged to support Edneyville.
“I’ve been on the board for four years and I know we’ve had this conversation for those four years,” he said. “It was very clear to us that there was a need here and I came on a visit here and I saw the need. We were very clear that Balfour and Edneyville were our No. 1 and Hendersonville was a distant third. Something needed to be done about that but something needed to be done here first. Fiscally I don’t see the sense in spending almost half the cost on renovation when a new school is very easily built here. And even if the numbers did decline some there’s still a need for it.”
Amy Lynn Holt, who joined the board in 2010, said the Edneyville Elementary project was a high priority then and remains one today, whether commissioners agree or not. Commissioners told the School Board that "a compelling case for the construction of a new elementary school simply has not been presented."
“As far as making a case to the commissioners, I didn’t know we needed to do that,” Holt said. “I thought we made decisions on this school system. I thought this was our school district, that we were the School Board.”