Bibb school system studying which schools to close

mstucka@macon.comNovember 21, 2013 

Bibb County school officials are already studying which schools should be closed.

The school system originally considered closing some schools in the current school year but decided there wasn’t enough time to do it right. That might not be the case for a wave of closures next year because board members could finalize the cuts or consolidations in the next month.

No schools have been identified for any sort of change, though no school board members spoke against the concept in Thursday’s board meeting. The system’s enrollment has been shrinking, and new charter schools are expected to siphon off hundreds or even thousands of students from the system. That all has financial effects on the system, which implemented deep staff cuts and furloughs this year to close a gaping budget hole.

Interim Superintendent Steve Smith said he expects to present his recommendations for changes to the board Dec. 9 and hopes the school board could vote Dec. 19 or Jan. 16 to finalize the system’s facilities plan.

“It’s a very critical decision that needs to be made,” Smith said.

Board member Lester Miller said the board needs to talk with community members early and study all alternatives. It’s possible, he said, areas of the county that haven’t had a new school in years could replace two old schools with a single new school.

At press deadline, board members were discussing how to launch a superintendent search. Board members contracted with the Georgia School Board Association in March but are just now getting to begin the actual search contract. Smith is scheduled to serve through next summer. The board bought out the contract of its last regular superintendent, Romain Dallemand, in February.

Board members indicated they wanted a superintendent with the highest possible degree, such as a doctorate.

Board members also agreed to seek bids for a core data center, which would take the place of a hodgepodge of aging servers kept at each school site. The work, valued at about $2 million, would create redundant servers with backups, a systemwide email service for 3,500 employees and 25,000 students and more reliable services.

Separately, Smith said Bibb County schools are pushing for their accreditation to be completely clean by this summer.

Smith said the system has been working diligently to fix six problematic areas flagged by the system’s accreditation agency, AdvancEd, which gave the system a status of accredited with warning this year.

Smith said a reaccreditation visit wouldn’t normally be scheduled for two more years, but he’s scheduled accreditors to visit at the end of April. They may recommend a clean accreditation when AdvancEd’s board meets in June.

“Hopefully, in June they will make a decision that has us listed as accredited, period,” he said.

Smith did not detail the changes he’s pushing. He’s previously said the AdvancEd report meshes with the system’s strategic plan and its needs for improvement.

The accreditors praised the system’s efforts to reform itself, even as they acknowledged dysfunction so bad they contemplated walking away from the accreditation process before it even began.

The accreditation report faulted areas including leadership, technology and human resources, and said the system needed to use data better to plan improvements. It also needs to focus on students in special-needs and gifted programs and ensure all students are learning, the report said.

Separately, Smith and board members declared their support for school calendars similar to this year’s, which included a weeklong break in the fall.

It’s not at all clear yet exactly how long future school years will be. Smith said he’d like to reduce the number of furlough days, but the costs of doing that won’t be clear until the budget process is underway in the spring.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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