WARNER ROBINS -- Bibb County interim School Superintendent Steve Smith told school board members Friday that the system would have to do better -- because it could hardly do worse.
Smith said confidence in the school board was rock bottom. Just think: We cant do anything else but bring it up. Similarly, he said, the 38 percent graduation rate at Southwest High School was the worst he had ever heard of, and it too could only go up.
We dont look too good, Smith said near the beginning of a two-day school board retreat at the Museum of Aviation. Weve got a lot of work ahead of us, but Ill tell you, it can be done and it will be done. ... Theres got to be some strategy for improving and thats what were working on right now.
About a dozen school system administrators joined board members for Fridays portion of the retreat. The school systems accreditors were not in the room but have never been far from the conversation.
Those accreditors faulted school board governance problems so bad theyd considered leaving in the middle of an inspection. Smith said the accreditors are due to return in April, but he wants to give them a progress report by January.
We must do that, Smith said. Thats not a question.
Smith said hes interested in the school system pursuing charter status, which would bring about $60 per student more. That would mean roughly $1.3 million more income. However, the school system has been losing roughly 200 students per year in recent years, and the school board Thursday approved two charter schools that could siphon students -- and their education funding -- from the public school system.
Board member Jason Downey said he expects the school system could lose 1,000 students next year to the two new charter schools, and more charter schools could be coming. Downey said the system could drop 3,000 students, losing perhaps $20 million every year, soon.
Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier said hes working to develop a five-year financial plan. The Bibb County school system now has about 24,400 students, and the loss of a single student costs money.
Its not just a matter of the state cutting. Its a matter of when you lose students you lose dollars as well, he said.
Smith said the system also needs to develop a facilities plan that predicts shrinking enrollment from demographic and other changes. The school board could begin evaluating plans to close schools by late November. The system is unlikely to see much money, or even much demand, for school sites it declares to be surplus.
The system is also working to get technology working properly. Mike Hall, technology director, told school board members they need to allocate money for technology just as they allocate money for textbooks. Grant money eventually runs out, and buys computers that just keep getting older.
We have computers in front of teachers in Bibb County right now that are 10 and 12 years old, Hall said.
Some of the school systems efforts have been a poorly functioning patchwork. Old computers cant run newer software and new computers cant run older software, Hall said. The school system is using 82 different programs, without knowing which software is effective or whether theyre being coordinated well. A school system slide calls the problem Random Acts of Improvement.
Board members said theyd never seen a plan for roughly $20 million in technology money to be funded by a special purpose local option sales tax.
So youre telling me the entire $20 million has already been obligated? board member Sue Sipe said, incredulously. Yes maam, replied Hall, who has been in the job two weeks. Oh, man, Sipe replied.
Randy Howard, a school system attorney, said the board approved contracts for the work. Board member Lynn Farmer those contracts were presented to the board after the fact. We had to clean up the mess.
The school boards retreat is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins.