Today, Anniston’s five public elementary schools are important parts of their surroundings. Families who live close to some of the oldest schools have strong emotions about them — they’re “their schools,” people are apt to say.
They’re right, of course.
Unfortunately, Anniston City Schools no longer needs five elementary schools. The city’s population has dwindled, and the number of children in the early grades can’t support five campuses. In the name of fiscal health and consolidation, the system needs to close an elementary school. Trust us when we say that closing a neighborhood school — which Anniston has done before — is unavoidably a painful event.
It’s understandable that Superintendent Joan Frazier prefers not to close an elementary school; she told Board of Education members that during Tuesday’s board meeting. Keeping all five elementaries open solves the dilemma of deciding which one to shutter.
But that option isn’t feasible. The quicker Frazier and the board settle on a system-wide consolidation plan that retains only four elementary schools, the better the Anniston system will be.
(Annistonians must remember that the idea of closing an elementary school is one part of a multi-piece puzzle that includes smarter use of all campuses. At the center of that puzzle is the middle school that sits on prime real estate north of downtown. Any worthwhile discussion must include strong consideration of moving middle-school students elsewhere and selling that McClellan-area property.)
If you’re wondering how contentious it will be for the board to select an elementary school to close, reporter Laura Camper’s story in Wednesday’s Star offered a primer for what lies ahead.
When Board President Mary Harrington suggested closing Tenth Street Elementary, Board Member Jim Klinefelter vigorously disagreed.
When Klinefelter suggested closing one of the “less successful” schools, Board Member William Hutchings opposed the notion and introduced race as a possible reason why Klinefelter would want to protect Tenth Street and close a school in the city’s majority-black wards.
“Why don’t you say it out loud? You’ve got the most white kids over there (at Tenth Street),” Hutchings said.
Today, a few feathers have been ruffled, no large decisions have been made. And remember, closing a school isn’t like selling an unwanted house. Approval from the U.S. Department of Justice isn’t quickly obtained.
What’s clear is that Anniston City Schools must shrink. The system’s future is four elementary schools and a middle school housed either in a former elementary or somewhere at the high school campus. Consolidation is needed. The numbers — in students and in dollars — offer no other plausible option.