The Fayette County Board of Education gave Superintendent Jeff Bearden the go-ahead Monday night to produce a report that could lead to the closure of an as yet undetermined number of schools beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.
Bearden will present the report at a called meeting of the school board on April 7.
The topic of closing schools surfaced last fall as one of a number of cost-saving measures. The conversation at that time dealt with the possibility of closing two elementary schools, opening the new but under-utilized Rivers Elementary School to full enrollment and closing one middle school. Bearden later in the fall recommended that the topic be put on hold for the time being.
The idea of closing schools resurfaced in a larger report by Bearden Monday night, one that centered on cost-saving budget measures that the school board will be facing for the 2012-2013 school year that begins in July.
“(School closures) will cause a lot of reaction and we want to make sure the community is aware,” Bearden told board members. “This will be painful but I think we’ve reached the point that we need to look at it.”
The reason for bringing the school closure topic back is reflected in the ongoing issue of money, both in shrinking revenues and in the rising cost of doing business. Bearden noted the virtual absence of residential building permits in recent years and the loss of more than 1,800 students in the past several years.
Building permits are one of the factors relating to the tax digest which is expected to lose another 8-10 percent this year. Property tax revenues received by the school system are tied to the tax digest. And as for enrollment numbers, each student in the system generates approximately $4,000 in state dollars.
Board member Terri Smith during the brief discussion said she did not know how the board could avoid looking at the issue. Board member Bob Todd and Chairman Leonard Presberg agreed, with Presberg saying that the topic needs to move forward, “Not that anyone wants to.”
Bearden said he would bring closure recommendations, the rationale for the closures and the cost savings that would be realized to the April 7 called meeting.
Bearden did note in the report that enrollment appears to be stabilizing though he did not project any growth in the foreseeable future.
Asked about the comment after the meeting, Bearden said the stabilization he referenced pertained to the number of students leaving the system in the past few months.
A stabilization of enrollment in the past few months notwithstanding, a University of Georgia study performed last year projected a slow but continued decline in enrollment through 2021.
The study by the Carl Vinson Institute results showed the school system projected to lose another 8.1 percent, or more than 1,600 students, over the next decade with the greatest decrease in enrollment coming in the middle and high schools grades and with enrollment inching up in the elementary grades.