Fayette BoE to consider more school closures for 2013-2014

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Now Brooks and Tyrone schools may be on the block

A workshop held May 2 by the Fayette County Board of Education was scheduled to hear the details behind Superintendent Jeff Bearden’s recent recommendation to close two elementary schools and a middle school in Fayetteville and open Rivers Elementary northwest of the city.

But by the time the meeting ended Bearden was presented with four options that could also lead to the closing of the elementary schools in Tyrone and Brooks. The process will pick up again in late summer with a final decision expected in December.

Bearden’s April 9 proposal to close Fayette Middle School, Hood Avenue Primary School and Fayetteville Intermediate School and open Rivers Elementary was cited as a way to help offset the school system that is facing significant decreasing revenues from plummeting local tax revenues and falling student enrollment that generates approximately $4,000 per student from state sources.

Bearden at the outset on May 2 said the goal of the meeting was to identify the schools to be closed, to send that information to the redistricting committee to determine proposed school boundary lines and to bring that information back to the school board at a meeting in July or August.

Bearden then answered the nearly two dozen questions pertaining to the closure recommendation that surfaced at the April 9 board meeting. Bearden in his comments also noted that his rationale for the recommendation included the point that all three schools are centrally located and would provide an opportunity for the school system to rent the buildings or use them for other educational purposes. The age of the facilities played a role in the recommendation since the three schools, along with Brooks Elementary, are the four oldest schools in the county, Bearden said at the April meeting.

The subsequent discussion by the board included questions about other considerations such as enrollment, pupil cost, future maintenance costs, operations costs and the elementary, middle, high school feeder pattern.

Noting the additional variables being discusses, Chairman Leonard Presberg addressed Bearden saying, “We need to look at a proposal that includes more schools than your original proposal.”

Bearden in response referenced the possible closure if two additional elementary schools, those in Brooks and Tyrone. Those schools have a higher pupil cost due to lower enrollment.

Bearden said closing all four elementary schools and opening Rivers Elementary would bring the county’s elementary schools to a 85-87 percent capacity and would save more than $3 million per year.

The discussion among board members continued, though at the end of the meeting they agreed that Bearden should develop four optional closure plans for consideration. Those include:

1) Bearden’s original proposal for closing Fayette Middle, Hood Avenue Primary and Fayetteville Intermediate and opening Rivers;

2) Bearden’s proposal and closing Tyrone Elementary;

3) Bearden’s proposal and closing Brooks Elementary; or

4) Bearden’s proposal and closing both Tyrone and Brooks.

The next meeting to discuss the board’s preference on the optional plans is expected to come at a workshop in July or August. The board at that time is expected to make a decision that will provide the school boundary redistricting committee with the information needed to begin its work.

Public hearings will also be held to solicit public input. The entire process is expected to be completed in December in time for the implementation that will take effect in the 2013-2014 school year.