LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Despite concerns about increased class sizes and a lack of details on how it would be implemented, the Jefferson County Board of Education approved a plan to merge two of its alternative schools and make structural changes at three other alternative sites on Monday night.

The motion to merge Kennedy Metro and Buechel Metro and make other changes at Breckinridge Metro High, Liberty High and the Phoenix School of Discovery passed 5-1 with school board member Lisa Willner voting against it. Board member Linda Duncan was absent.

District officials
, as well as reduce the drop-out rate and increase the graduation rate of the district's alternative students as well as help ensure safe and orderly environments in the district's other schools.

Willner said she has "grave concerns" about the plan, adding she believes the district is "playing with fire" by increasing the number of students and decreasing the number of teachers and staff.

"Without knowing who the visionary school leaders are who are going to make this work at the school level, without knowing why we're increasing the number of students in the building and how that's going to actually benefit this very fragile population is a major concern for me," she said. "I think we're playing with fire and I would urge us to be very, very, very cautious."

Board members Chris Brady, Diane Porter and David Jones Jr. also raised concerns about the lack of details, but ultimately voted in favor of the plan, telling Superintendent Donna Hargens and her staff they felt they needed to support the plan in order to make needed changes at the district's alternative schools and will hold her accountable to ensure the right decisions are being made.

"The way we are providing alternative education for our students is not working, something must change," Porter said. "I feel that I have to vote to move forward with this...the board deserves to hear more and we deserve to hear more before the first day of school."

Porter particularly questioned providing only one social worker, yet seven security monitors at the merged school.

"These are kids with problems," she said. "We need to be able to help them."

Hargens told board members she was simply seeking approval of funding allocations at this time to "to begin the work of identifying who would be in the school and using those people along with outside experts to come up with a professional development plan."

Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for JCPS, said "if we do the programming right with the great teachers we have and the great leadership we can have at these locations, we can change the trajectory of those kids' lives."

Officials are tentatively calling the merged Kennedy/Buechel school the Bashford Restorative Academy. It would serve a maximum of 438 students and have a total staff of 64 positions, including one principal, three assistant principals, four counselors and 37 certified teachers. The teacher to student ratio would be approximately 12 to 1, while the adult to student ratio would be about 7 to 1.

The overall plan could save the district $880,000 by eliminating 18 positions at two sites, although the district says no one would lose their jobs, they would all be eligible to transfer to positions open at other schools throughout the district.

Hensley said this plan is not about "saving dollars" it is about "saving kids."

Officials say if the district can "provide individualized pathways, take advantage of technology, personalize each student's educational plan and setting, intervene with students who are behind and respond to a student's life circumstances appropriately," the district can "give students hope" and "increase instructional time and academic achievement for all students."

School board chairman David Jones Jr. said refiguring the district's alternative schools "demands great care so that we don't make things worse while trying to make things better."

But he told Hargens that's her responsibility and the board will "follow your lead."

Earlier in Monday's work session, Hensley told board members the district is not moving forward with an idea to merge the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program (Westport TAPP and SouthPark TAPP). 

He said the Westport building would "be the ideal building, but transportation would be burden" and SouthPark is "too small" for both programs.

"Our recommendation is to look to see if there is a third building that could accommodate" and leave TAPP alone for now, Hensley said.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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