Baby Birds program facing changes

Apr. 19—Baby Birds, security fencing at Homestead Elementary School and tennis courts at Stone Memorial High School were among topics addressed by a Cumberland County Board of Education committee Tuesday afternoon.

It was announced last month that the school system's program for developmentally and intellectually challenged children ages 18 months to 3 years — called the Baby Birds Learning Center — would be shutting its doors June 30, when the Tennessee Early Intervention System grant that funds its operation expires.

The announcement alarmed parents whose children are being helped by the program. They took to social media, contacted the Chronicle and presented a petition to the school board in March.

Buildings and Grounds and Safety Committee Chairman Robbie Safdie opened discussion, stating Stepp had received information that a federal grant which provided the bulk of financial support was coming to an end.

Safdie added this proved to be incorrect and a grant application was quickly prepared, submitted and has been accepted by the federal funding source.

The good news is funding in the amount of $182,500 per year for the next five years is being approved.

The not-so-good news is, this is lower than funds received previously and the new grant will include different requirements to be met by the program.

Stepp told the committee the change in requirements might result in a change of location for the program. Other changes might be forthcoming.

Staff will inform those receiving the benefit of Baby Birds will receive explanation for the changes when school officials finalize program plans that meet the new requirements.

The committee passed a motion recommending the BOE budget committee accepting funding for the program. The date and time for that meeting is yet to be announced.

The committee also recommended a security fencing project be funded — partial or total — for Homestead Elementary School. Safdie suggested the fencing include a white film for security and privacy.

A 4-foot fence current extends the length of Rector Rd. to Hwy. 68 but committee members discussed installing 6-foot fencing. Early estimates for the entire school property that is without fence was discussed at up to $241,000. With privacy film added, that figure could rise to $500,000.

If done in phases, BOE member Elizabeth Stull asked if the sheriff or SRO has been consulted on a priority area for security purposes. Response from Stepp was that property exposed to main roads would be considered the high-risk areas.

Motion was made and approved to send the project to the budget committees to determine if the entire project or phases can be funded.

Stepp provided an update on tennis courts at SMHS and said cost for each of the six courts planned are in the $83,000-$85,000 range, for a total of just over $476,000. It was noted that to host district tournaments eight courts would be required.

With available land an issue, Uplands Design, determined the six courts could be built by turning the present two courts north and south and adding on the additional courts being considered.

The committee voted unanimously to move the funding request to the BOE's budget committee.

Michael Moser may be reached at