Bibb BOE seeks to dispel Promise Center rumors

jmink@macon.comJune 19, 2014 

The Bibb County school board will continue to be involved with the Promise Neighborhood initiative and will continue to lease the Promise Center, despite false rumors to the contrary, board members said.

Some board members discussed Thursday the possibility of purchasing the Promise Center during the regular board meeting. In a packed board room, some residents protested a recent board decision concerning Promise Center operations while others supported the decision.

Earlier this spring, the board voted to terminate a memorandum of understanding, which required the district to pay up to $325,000 a year for operations of the Promise Center, a former school building on Anthony Road. That included tasks such as painting and mowing the lawns. The school board terminated that agreement because it can use its own maintenance staff to perform those tasks.

The Macon Promise Neighborhood project, which seeks to revive Macon’s Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods, involves much more than the Macon Promise Center. The project is a collaboration involving a variety of organizations, which would offer much-needed services to residents to try to boost graduation rates, address high levels of poverty, increase health literacy and improve the quality of life.

During Thursday’s board meeting, the Rev. James Baker, of Macon, discussed low graduation rates and the need for Promise Neighborhood programs in Unionville and Tindall Heights.

Several audience members, some wearing “Honor the Promise” pins, applauded.

“We are hearing very disturbing news about the Promise Center,” Baker said. “It’s time we come together. This has got to be about our kids.”

Another speaker, however, disagreed. Bob Nickels, a Macon resident and former school board member, applauded the board’s decision to ax the operations agreement. There is no reason for the district to pay for the operations of the Promise Center, when it can maintain the building itself and use that money to educate students, Nickels said.

“The board absolutely did the right thing,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s not going to impact the programs at the Promise Center.”

Some speakers indicated they believed the decision means the school system is pulling out of the Promise Neighborhood project, but that is not true, board members said. The school district is still involved with the project, will continue to lease space in the Anthony Road building and will house programs there, officials said.

Some board members also want to soon decide whether to purchase the building. The district currently is leasing the building for the next nine years at $575,000 a year.

Board member Wanda West said she supported buying the building.

“I don’t want it to be the elephant in the room,” West said. “The people in the community want this issue to be resolved.”

Board member Tom Hudson also urged the board to soon make a decision concerning the purchase of the Promise Center.

“We need to make a decision. Either we purchase the building or we (continue to) lease it,” he said. “But we keep dragging our feet.”

The plan is for the Promise Center to be a satellite campus for the Hutchings College and Career Charter Academy, and, by next school year, five full-time programs should be housed in that building, interim Superintendent Steve Smith said.

“Contrary to what some people are saying, we are committed to the Promise Center,” he said.

Budget approved

Also Thursday, the school board voted 7-1 to approve the fiscal 2015 budget, with Hudson voting no. The $289 million budget includes no furloughs and a 180-day school year for students.

It also paves the way for all elementary schools to have full-time assistant principals. Some elementary schools only have part-time assistant principals.

The budget has a $7.4 million deficit that would be covered by the fund balance, leaving a projected ending fund balance of $19.6 million.

Bob Easter, with the Academy for Classical Education, addressed the school board “to make sure our students are funded fairly,” he said. Easter voiced concerns about whether the school’s per-student funding matches other schools within the district.

Smith said the charter school will be funded fairly, but the current budget is based on projections because it’s still unclear how many students the charter school will enroll.

When the school officially counts its students in October, the budget will be adjusted accordingly, Smith said. A total of about $4.7 million is budgeted for the charter school.

“They’re going to get the same treatment our schools in our system are getting because they are a part of the Bibb County school district,” Smith said.

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