Concerned Bibb County parents packed Thursday night’s school board meeting to speak their minds about Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s plan to overhaul the school system.
School officials allowed 116 people into the meeting room, the maximum allowed under the fire code. Dozens of parents and students also crowded into hallways and a lobby area, listening as audio from the meeting was delivered over a loudspeaker. Campus police officers were on hand to help with the overflow.
By 8:20 p.m., about 30 people had addressed the board in 90 minutes of public comments.
Many of the parents said they were concerned about aspects of the plan they learned about through media reports. Dallemand will present the entire plan to the public Friday afternoon at the Macon Coliseum.
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The majority of the speakers Thursday night were critical of the proposal. Their criticisms ranged from school safety to how grades would be realigned to the costs of implementing the proposal.
“It was good to get public input,” school board President Tommy Barnes said. “We had a wide range of opinions tonight.”
Barnes said the plan is still getting revisions, which may alleviate some of the community’s concerns.
“I’ve never thought we were at the point where it’s etched in stone,” he said. “I’m open to (suggestions) to the point when we set the date to make our decision.”
Several parents who addressed the board said they thought the system was moving too quickly to adopt the proposal without the necessary feedback or vetting.
William Boswell, who has three children in the system, said that while most of the community seems to agree that changes to the district are needed, the community shouldn’t rush into a new plan without more examination.
“Our desperation for a plan doesn’t guarantee its success,” Boswell said. “There are a number of unanswered questions.”
Boswell said he hasn’t been satisfied with the system’s level of transparency, saying e-mails he sent to Dallemand have gone unanswered.
“Since then, there has been an atmosphere characterized by secrecy and paranoia,” he said.
Boswell also criticized Dallemand for not making time to meet with roughly 200 Bibb County high school students who demonstrated outside the school board headquarters Thursday morning.
Sean Johnson, a father of two Bibb County students, said there were parts of the strategic plan he agreed with, some that he didn’t agree with and some he didn’t understand.
“Changes need to be made,” he told the board. “But (the plan) is doing it in broad strokes. I’d like the board to take a look at the plan.”
Johnson suggested to board members that they select the lowest performing elementary, middle and high school in the county and launch the plan in those schools as pilot cases, which would allow the district to tweak the plan along the way as it is implemented at other schools.
Bibb County resident Andy Wilson said he is concerned that the plan hasn’t specified which 12 of the system’s elementary schools would be closed under the proposal. A lot of people bought homes in specific school districts so that their children could attend a particular school, he said.
Wilson said he hoped the community wouldn’t be divided along racial lines when discussing the plan.
“The only thing that makes me mad is when people, white and black, make (the plan) a racial issue,” he said. “We’re one city.”
Erica Eaton, the mother of a kindergarten student, expressed her full support of the plan.
“I support the Macon Miracle,” Eaton said. “I’m very impressed with the comprehensiveness of it. ... I’m impressed with the way you want to engage the community.”
Eaton said she also was impressed with the plan’s focus on student achievement as well as proposed cost savings.
“I’d love to see a 4-mill reduction in property taxes. That would be amazing,” she said.
The Rev. Ronald Terry, the minister at New Fellowship Baptist Church, is one of a group of local ministers who announced support for Dallemand’s restructuring plan earlier this week.
“We haven’t had any plan before,” Terry said before the meeting. “It may not be perfect. We may have to tweak it here or there, but it’s a plan.”
Terry addressed the board Thursday night, criticizing board members who have criticized Dallemand or the plan when they spoke to reporters. Terry didn’t single out specific board members.
Walter Martin, who has a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son in the school system, said he was opposed to “99 percent of what I’ve seen.”
“They’re going to shuffle kids into middle school at age 10, which is criminally insane,” said Martin, referring to the part of the plan that will change middle school grades from sixth through eighth grades to fourth through seventh grades. “They are not speaking about safety. That’s not included in the plan.”
Martin said the school system does need changes, but he said the strategic plan is “too extreme.”
Staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.