A school closure may be in Bibb County’s future.
During a work session Thursday night, school board members heard a report on the district’s five-year facilities review process and discussed alternatives. The plan will help the district decide if new facilities, renovations, school closings or mergers are needed.
Superintendent Curtis Jones presented three initial options for the board to consider: keep schools as they are; merge Riley Elementary into nearby schools; or consolidate L.H. Williams Elementary into Brookdale Elementary.
Jones said Thursday night was just the starting point for discussion. He will take into account board members’ thoughts and likely present his recommendation at the Dec. 14 board meeting.
A community information session is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. Nov. 28 at Vineville Academy of the Arts, at 2260 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
It’s estimated that the district will have an excess of 91 classrooms — an 11 percent surplus — in its elementary schools by the year 2022, according to a report from the district. The county’s student enrollment has decreased by 2.1 percent over the last five years, which amounts to a loss of 106 students yearly.
“I don’t believe that 11 percent is reasonable. I think that we ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that,” board member Lester Miller said. “If you vote to keep all these schools open, you’re basically voting for a tax increase, because we are throwing away money keeping schools open that are half full.”
New charter schools such as Dream Academy, set to open in fall 2018, could also lead to fewer pupils and affect the district’s Strategic Waivers School System contract, Jones said.
District officials looked at schools that are using 70 percent or less of their classroom space. Brookdale is using 55 percent; L.H. Williams, 68 percent; and Riley, 63 percent, according to the report.
Ingram-Pye and Union elementary schools, Appling Middle and Northeast and Southwest high schools also are below 70 percent. District officials expect the new Northeast/Appling complex will improve usage of the middle and high schools.
Brookdale is large enough to accommodate all L.H. Williams students, but not the other way around, Jones said. Board member Wanda West suggested it might be better to close Brookdale Elementary and put those students into L.H. Williams and Riley, rather than shutter the community-centered L.H. Williams in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.
“I know that we’ll probably have to close some schools, but I think we need to look at maintaining the culture of (the L.H. Williams) community,” board member Thelma Dillard said. “The heritage is there, and we can maintain that heritage. This is growth and development for our children.”
Consolidating schools saves a minimum of $500,000. There are fewer staff positions and less spent on maintenance and expenses, and it eliminates some of the teacher shortage, Miller said.
If a charter school or organization is interested in buying a school that’s closing, the district should consider it if it would be of value and allow the building to remain a part of the community, Miller said. Board members Sundra Woodford, Bob Easter and Ella Carter liked the idea of finding alternative uses — such as community programs or specialty schools — for any school that may close.
“(Board members) want to be supportive of community, they want to be supportive of all of our students, and they recognize that we probably should address the number of excess classrooms at the elementary level,” Jones said. “They’re coming at it from different ways, and we’ll do our best to find a win-win situation.”