It was arguably the largest attendance seen in recent memory at a meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education. An estimated 900 people attended the Jan. 28 meeting at Sams Auditorium to voice their opinions on the potential closure of three elementary schools and one middle school beginning in August.
School system officials presented preliminary maps showing proposed school attendance zones that would result from the closure of Tyrone Elementary School, Brooks Elementary School, Fayette Middle School and Fayetteville Intermediate School (FIS), which includes grades 3-5. FIS would merge into the physically adjacent Hood Avenue Primary School (grades K-2).
The closures would affect at a minimum 1,536 students.
In terms of student movement resulting from the closures, the large bulk of Fayette Middle’s 712 students would be reassigned to Bennett’s Mill Middle School that, as of November, had an enrollment of 599 and a capacity of 1,200.
The reconfiguration of the attendance lines could result in some students from Bennett’s Mill or Fayette Middle being reassigned to Whitewater Middle School, which has an enrollment of 747 and a capacity of 1,088.
A significant number of FIS/Hood Avenue Primary students, perhaps as many as 250, could be reassigned to North Fayette Elementary and Spring Hill Elementary. As of November, FIS had a student enrollment of 405 and Hood Avenue had an enrollment of 378.
As for the potential receiving schools, North Fayette Elementary shows an enrollment of 486 with a capacity of 563 while Spring Hill has an enrollment of 518 and a capacity of 738.
As for Brooks Elementary, the large majority of students could be reassigned to Minter Elementary. Brooks enrollment is 240 while Minter has an enrollment of 588 with a capacity of 763. A smaller number of Brooks students could be reassigned to Inman Elementary that has an enrollment of 472 and a capacity of 663.
And for Tyrone Elementary, a significant number of students could be reassigned to Crabapple Elementary. Tyrone has an enrollment of 334 while Crabapple has an enrollment of 532 and a capacity of 688.
It should be noted that the school attendance zones listed above are not the only ones being considered for adjustment. Any adjustment could potentially impact the number of students currently assigned to a given school if the lines are redrawn even slightly. Facilities Director Mike Satterfield noted that the redistricting committee will be examining the need to straighten out any existing problems with any or all school attendance lines.
The potential closures were the only item that drew most of the mass of people to the meeting. In that regard, 37 people signed up for the public comments portion of the meeting and, of those, a majority was opposed to the closures. But perhaps as unexpected as anything at the meeting were the comments from a handful of speakers.
One of the those was longtime developer and south Fayette resident Brent Scarbrough who said if Brooks Elementary closed he would move his business to Coweta County. Scarbrough said he pays approximately $1 million in various business-related and property taxes in Fayette County, excluding sales taxes.
Another speaker issuing a surprise statement was Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial. While the needed sewer system upgrade to Tyrone Elementary has long been a discussion, and though the Tyrone Town Council to date has indicated it would allow the school system right-of-way access to run sewer lines to the school at school system expense, Dial added a new component to the issue.
Dial said though it would require a vote by the council, he believed council members would consider the town’s participation in installing the sewer line from Southampton subdivision to the school on Senoia Road as an investment in Tyrone and its future. The price of running the sewer line to replace the school’s aging septic system is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000 or more.
Yet another speaker approached the upcoming budget cuts from a different perspective. A bus driver employed by the school system, her comments were a response to calls by some in the community that school system employees take additional cuts of 2 percent to offset the need for the school closures. Noting that she has not received a raise in the years she has been with the school system, the bus driver said her salary is $942 per month, of which $665 goes for family healthcare benefits while another $107 goes for taxes. That leaves her with a take-home pay of approximately $169 per month.
“I’m not giving another 2 percent,” she said. “Don’t ask us for more. We have nothing to give.”
Also taking a completely different approach from all the other speakers in her comment to the school board was Fayette Middle School seventh-grader Samantha Frazier.
“I know that there are gonna be a lot of people here tonight that are gonna come up here, stand where I am standing, thank you for all that you do and tell you how much they would hate to make your decisions, and then ask you to keep THEIR school open,” Samantha said.
“Honestly, I was gonna do the same thing. But then I did my homework. After all of that, if I were to stand up here tonight and beg you not to close MY school, I would feel like the most selfish person in the world. All I can say is that I hope you don’t close my school but I will understand if you do. If FMS closes, it won’t be easy but we will pull through. And like I said, I would feel selfish if I asked you to keep my school open just to close someone else’s. So, I am here to be a voice for the students and pass on what we have to say.
“We love FMS. We are not going to cheer with joy if it closes,” Samantha continued. “To us, this is our home and we are being evicted. We understand why it might happen though and we will be okay. What we want you to know, what we want the district, the administration and everyone in the community to know, is that the teachers at FMS have changed our lives. We are better people, stronger people because of them. I can stand up here today because of what they have taught me. If nothing else happens as a result of everything I have said, I at least want those teachers to know that they made a difference. They made our lives better and helped us grow into strong people. They are the reason that we will get through it if our school closes. Because they did such a good job that even if they aren’t with us wherever we go, we will still succeed because they gave us what we needed to make it happen.”
Though no board vote on the redistricting issue was taken, board member Mary Kay Bacallao later in the meeting stated her lack of support for the school closure and redistricting initiative. Bacallao referenced 10 cost-saving alternatives that can be found on her website at http://marykaybacallao.jimdo.com.
The school closure topic is part of a much larger set of cost-saving measures being considered for the coming school year. Those cuts, estimated to total approximately $15 million, are needed so that the school board can adopt a balanced budget. Several million dollars in personnel cuts have already been made and additional cuts in personnel are guaranteed since approximately 90 percent of the school system’s general fund budget is personnel.
Redistricting committee representatives noted that the maps as presented are preliminary and that further revisions will likely be made as the full redistricting committee continues its work. It was also noted later in the meeting that two public hearings will be held in February to continue to community discussion on the potential closures.
Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell on Tuesday said current plans call for detailed maps of the school attendance zones to be produced soon and located at the Lafayette Education Center so that those interested can view the potential attendance area for specific schools. Details will be provided once the maps are available. Meanwhile the preliminary map for elementary school districts and the preliminary map for middle and high school districts are viewable within this article.
By clicking on the “Attachments” link following this story, you may view two additional documents provided by the board: One detailing the student capacity of each school and a second document outlining the parameters observed by the redistricting committee.