Wise decision to halt the march to school mergers and closings

June 9, 2013 

Steve Smith, Bibb County’s interim superintendent, suggested a wise course of action in taking school mergers and closings off the table -- for now. His suggestion was approved by the board of education 6-1 on Thursday. Smith was right to say the train to close and merge schools was moving too fast and that more study is needed to do it right.

Why more study? It’s complicated. You just can’t close schools willy-nilly. The Bibb system had 24,158 students enrolled in its schools last year, 12,182 in its 25 elementary schools, not counting Northwoods Academy or the Price Educational Center. They range in school population from 334 at Williams to 711 at Heritage. The system has seven elementary schools with fewer than 400 students and 12 that have more than 500 students.

It’s a question of capacity, geography and facility. Certainly, the system could combine Jones and King Danforth. The two schools are in close proximity, creating a school population of 740, but neither facility can handle that many students.

On the middle school level, there are some possibilities. Two middle schools, Ballard Hudson and Bloomfield, barely have more than 500 students, however, both schools are fairly new. It would be a shame to close a school that’s less than 10 years old. At the time of their construction, board members were aware student population would be a problem if the attendance zones were not adjusted. The system has two middle schools, Rutland and Howard with more than 1,000 students.

At the high school level, it becomes more complicated. Two high schools, Northeast and Southwest, have less than 1,000 students. Northeast has only 813, but can you combine schools on opposite ends of the system? Of course not. An obvious target would be the William S. Hutchings Career Center. There were only 296 students attending there last school year. The school, due to external forces, has never come close to capacity.

Smith is right. The system should be able to find the $855,000 it would have saved by closing and merging schools if it properly estimates the amount of dark time or churn (open positions) in personnel (They already know that number).

It will be a juggling act, but that’s better than upsetting a community that’s already fractured and distrustful of the school system.

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