Now is the time to close some schools

For the past five years, the Fayette County Board of Education has been in one financial crisis after another. This school district has over-built, over-employed, and over-spent.

Previous administrations and boards ignored the facts that were placed right before them. Moreover, as long as Fayette County was in the “good times,” no one cared to peer down the road into the future. Homes and schools were being built and the attitude of “if you build it, they will come,” prevailed. Albeit it was unthinkable that the good times would be replaced with an economic downturn, but there were glimpses of what was to come.

For the past several years, a Band-Aid approach has been used to remedy the FCBOE’s financial situation. Reduction of personnel, pay cuts, benefit supplements removed, reduction of the academic year, and stop-work days have been and continue to be the primary cost reductions implemented by the FCBOE.

With $15 million more to be reduced for next year’s budget, the talking and stalling of the Band-Aid approach needs to end.

Scott Austensen, Deputy of System Finance for the Georgia Department of Education, put it more succinctly when he told the public at the last school board meeting Fayette County has too many empty classrooms and excess staff. He went further and said these numbers will grow in the next five years.

Last Tuesday night, Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell, repeated the state DOE’s findings. “Fayette County is on the state’s watch-list. If we do not get our finances in order, the state will.”

Some citizens who are in communities that have schools identified as being on the FCBOE’s “closing list” have fought hard to keep their schools open. I applaud you. Anyone in your situation would do the same, but the suggestion that employees need to take a pay cut to keep school buildings open is nothing but placing another Band-Aid on the open gash that is now the FCBOE finances.

As student enrollment declines, the school district becomes smaller and the cost to keep all buildings open will continue to rise each year. With that in mind, will salaries continue to be cut to support these near empty buildings?

If you think that by cutting salaries no one will lose their job, one only needs to look back at 2009-2010. After a 5-0 vote in February 2009 to cut salaries 4.5 percent, 156 positions were lost. Cutting pay will not reduce the slated positions to be cut this year or any year.

There has been study after study of Fayette County’s demographics. All reported nearly the same conclusion: declining school-age population.

The school system administration has stated that for every school closed, $800,000 will be saved year after year. So are the persons posting and blogging to cut salaries ready to ask employees to continue to take additional pay cuts every year or shorten the school year more days?

What we should have, could have, or would have done, does not matter. In order to continue to see resurgence in Fayette County’s economic climate, it must continue to maintain a viable and financially secure school system.

The time for talking and debating is over. As unfortunate as it is, schools must be closed. Too much time has already been wasted.

Dana Camp

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Camp is a retired teacher who taught for many years in the Fayette system.]