Bibb school board saves Riley, expects fights for others

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 16, 2014 

Tyler Smith, 8, doesn't think his school should be closed.

THE TELEGRAPH

Riley Elementary School appears to have come off the Bibb County school system’s chopping block, but school board members indicated Thursday that other school communities hoping to save their vintage facilities may have an uphill fight.

Advocates for Riley Elementary showed up in force last month, telling school board members how strong the ties are between the school and the surrounding neighborhood. Board members said they have been getting plenty of calls from people organizing to oppose a closing of Bernd Elementary.

Thursday, that support was obvious as most of the public speakers wanted to talk about Bernd. Among them was Tyler Smith, 8, a second-grade student.

“I go to Bernd Elementary, and I love my school. Please don’t close that school,” he told The Telegraph. When Bernd Principal Chris Ridley was recognized for his school’s improvements in the Title I program, he received an extended standing ovation.

“I got flooded with emails about Bernd,” said board member Lester Miller, who said he has seen similar fights before. Under the latest plans, Bernd would be merged into a new school being built at the King-Danforth Elementary site.

That point was repeated by interim Superintendent Steve Smith, who said schools wouldn’t lose their identity. The facility plan calls for two older, smaller schools to merge, and they could blend the two old names together, he suggested.

No vote on the facility plan was taken Thursday, but a vote is expected in February.

The latest draft plan calls for Jones and Riley elementary schools to be pulled back from the phased-out list. Burghard and King-Danforth elementaries would be phased out. Four new elementary schools would be built to accommodate students from Barden, Bernd, Heard, Burghard, Morgan, King-Danforth, Rice and Porter elementary schools. A Heard replacement already is underway. State money and special purpose local option sales tax funds would help build the schools.

Board members Thursday called for their own field trip to see school sites and what could be possible.

Board members also elected, unanimously, a fresh slate of leaders. Susan Sipe became the board’s president, with Thelma Dillard as vice president and Lester Miller as treasurer.

Wanda West, the past president, said the board has done a better job of bringing itself and the school system’s constituencies together.

“I do believe, for this community, we have exceeded expectation. We’ve been a peaceful board now for a year,” she said.

Separately, board members voted to cancel a second phase of a contract with WIPRO, which installed more efficient lighting in the school system.

Administrators praised WIPRO and the apparent savings from the new equipment, but they said the system and WIPRO agreed the schools’ computers can’t handle the monitoring software the second phase would bring. That saves about $1.6 million, officials said. A WIPRO official said the ongoing energy savings will be more than enough to pay off a loan used to fund the equipment purchases.

Estimates on energy saving will be prepared for a future board meeting.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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