The Monroe County school board tabled a decision of whether to consolidate its middle schools and will revisit the issue in two weeks.
According to a plan presented to the school board in December, all of the county’s seventh- and eighth-graders will go to school together at Banks Stephens Middle School. Monroe County’s sixth-graders, in turn, will attend William Hubbard Middle School. The proposal is an effort to save the system between $500,000 and $750,000 in personnel, programs and facilities costs, Superintendent Anthony Pack said.
After about half an hour of discussion that included talk about cost savings to the system, class sizes, potential new programs for students and the impact on existing ones, board members decided to table the vote until Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.
Board member Tammy Fletcher said some of her constituents have asked her for a more detailed list of where savings might come from, including personnel and programs costs. She said there are matters that school leaders take for granted that the public may not understand.
“They’d like to see something in writing, not as broad as we’ve got it,” she said.
Pack said some of those details may not yet be available, as leaders are waiting to see who will retire or resign before deciding which positions will be cut. The consolidation could cut five to eight jobs, which he hopes will be taken care of through attrition.
Monroe’s proposed sixth-grade school would be the first in Middle Georgia. Around the state, Marietta city schools, Cobb and Tift counties, as well as Heritage Preparatory Academy, a state charter school, already have embraced the concept.
Keeping the system’s sixth-graders together mirrors the idea behind the Mary Persons Freshman Campus, which separates ninth-graders from older students to ease their transition into high school, Superintendent Anthony Pack said.
The freshman campus, which opened in fall 2007, has helped boost retention rates and has meant a more focused learning environment, said Mary Persons High School Principal Jim Finch. Officials would like to see the same results for sixth-graders in the new school.
Right now, Monroe County has about 900 students at its two middle schools, though the schools have a combined capacity for almost 1,500 students. That meant both schools were not operating at full capacity.
Under the plan, school leaders are able to close off parts of the sixth-grade campus not used by students to save on the costs of utilities, and having more students at Banks Stephens will make operating the school more efficient, officials said.
The savings in operations costs could bring about new programs for Monroe’s middle school students, such as foreign language courses.
The discussion also turned to how special education might be affected with the consolidation.
Steve Harbin, a parent of a sixth grader with moderate to severe autism and founder of a special needs advocacy group, said he would like to see classes that serve students with special needs offered at the sixth-grade school.
Currently, those classes are offered to Monroe’s middle school students at Banks Stephens.
Having those classes at the sixth-grade school would make sure the school day is disrupted as little as possible.
“We understand the financial component and the school’s need for consolidation, but we would like their voice to be heard as well,” Harbin wrote in a letter to the board.
“We will make the best effort we can to provide,” said school board Chairman Ray Grant. “We’ve got to consider all 4,000 students. When we make changes, we will certainly keep the concerns at the forefront.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.