After two recent public hearings, numerous discussions and a wealth of public comments spanning the better part of two years, the Fayette County Board of Education Monday night on split votes committed to close three elementary schools and one middle school at the end of the school year.
Beginning in August Brooks Elementary, Fayetteville Intermediate School (FIS), Tyrone Elementary School and Fayette Middle School will cease to operate. The closures are said to save approximately $3.2 million in operating funds and are a part of a larger $15 million in cuts to be made in coming months. The balance of those cuts will translate into 225 or more school system employees losing their jobs at the end of June.
The vote Monday night had school board members Mary Kay Bacallao and Barry Marchman voting to keep Brooks Elementary open. Voting to close the school were board members Bob Todd and Leonard Presberg and Chairman Marion Key.
The votes to close FIS, Tyrone and Fayette Middle, all taken separately, came on 4-1 votes with Bacallao in opposition.
Each of the votes was preceded by a number of comments from board members explaining their rationale for the votes they were about to give.
It was perhaps noteworthy that the audience in Sams Auditorium Monday night totaled approximately 350 people, more than attended the most recent public hearing on the closures but far fewer than the 900 people that attended the first public hearing. And unlike public reaction at some of the previous hearings and at a number of school board meetings during the past year the audience was comparatively subdued, and with most exiting the auditorium once the votes were taken and the school board had retired to executive session.
Prior to the votes Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat reported on recent meetings with planning department staff from Fayetteville, Fayette County and Peachtree City and with local business leaders and the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.
Sweat said school system representatives were told by city and county planning staff that though there is a current up-tick in residential building permits the outlook is for only slow growth over time.
A part of the schools system’s financial woes comes from falling property values in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors that have seen Fayette lose approximately 20 percent of its value in the past three years. That is significant for the school system because it receives approximately two-thirds of the property tax dollars generated in Fayette County. In addition, the school system relies on property tax dollars for approximately half of its operating revenue.
Sweat said the meeting with the chamber and business leaders was one that solicited their opinion of the possible school closures. He said the majority at the meeting said they supported the school board in making hard decisions, adding that they want to meet quarterly with school system representatives.
Sweat said the business leaders were also concerned about the potential for losing up to 100 parapros as part of the cost-cutting in personnel to save nearly $12 million once the school board begins the conversations that will lead to the most massive personnel cuts in Fayette’s history.
And Sweat noted the comments of Fayette County Development Authority CEO Matt Forshee at the meeting. Forshee said that the entry of the Pinewood Studio Group in north central Fayette would result in a slow growth process over time, Sweat reported.
Sweat noted that some residents during the public hearings had suggested that the arrival of Pinewood would generate a degree of significant growth in the short-term.