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Shelby Eastern school board votes to support solar farm

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Shelby Eastern Schools is throwing its support behind efforts for a proposed solar farm in northeast Shelby County.

The school board voted 5-0 in favor of supporting Ranger Power, a company from New York that has proposed turning 1,200 acres of cropland that would be leased by land owners. SES school board member Deanna Holder is one of those land owners and abstained.

Board member Heather Ross was unable to attend the meeting.

In return for helping promote the petition, SES will receive $600,000 from Ranger Power, which will be evenly split between Morristown and Waldron schools. Both will get $300,000 apiece.

“I’m excited about the ability to use that (money), but I recognize that it’s a political issue out in the county, so I’d like the board to decide which way they’d like me to move forward with that, or not at all,” Superintendent Dr. Robert Evans told the board before a vote was taken.

Board member Frank Schonfeld immediately voiced his support, noting enrollment continues to decrease and the board voted in the November meeting to spend $4.9 million on school improvements.

Evans said a poll was conducted with 82 percent of 300 people voicing their approval. He said the company also guaranteed that it would be bonded and fully commissioned.

He said the corporation would allow each school’s administrators to inform teachers that if they wanted to promote the solar farm, they could. SES could also provide tables at basketball games that promote it. And Evans said he could promote it through the clubs he’s involved in.

“If the faculty came out and said they wouldn’t support it, I certainly wouldn’t ask them to,” he said. “People who are willing to do something, I would let them do it.”

One-hundred percent of the $600,000 would be used to support classroom endeavors, he said before the vote was taken.

He said he was not comfortable with making a decision without the board’s input because of the politics involved.

“I think you take the political out of it, anytime you can advocate for your kids,” board member Jason Redd said.

“I mean that’s what we’re here for is the kids,” Schonfeld responded. “And now we get the funding for it. Because our funding goes down every day.”

Ranger Power originally offered $1.5 million to the county, including $250,000 to SES. When the Shelby County Board of Zoning Appeals denied a petition with a 3-2 vote at a Nov. 14 meeting, the company increased its offer to $1.6 million, including $500,000 to the school corporation.

The life expectancy for the solar farm would be 40 years according to Ranger Power representatives, after which, the land could be returned for farming purposes.