“We don’t have any numbers,” said board member Bill Robison. “We don’t have any good reasons.”
The school system is looking at restructuring because of its falling student enrollment. In the last seven years, it has lost 319 students, which is the equivalent to the population of a whole school, Superintendent Joan Frazier pointed out. However, the number of schools has remained the same.
The school system also has a wide disparity in the number of students attending its five elementary schools. Cobb, the smallest elementary school, has just 154 students, while Tenth Street, the largest, has 355. The system hasn’t changed its school zones since 2001, when Norwood Elementary was closed due to declining enrollment, Frazier said.
Frazier presented some ideas to the board members, among them creating a magnet school, retaining sixth-grade students at the elementary schools — the elementary schools now are kindergarten through fifth grade — or decreasing the number of elementary school and creating a junior high in the vacated building.
Fewer facilities would free up local funds that are now used to maintain and staff the extra buildings. That could allow the system to add programs such as career technology options, additional foreign languages and teaching them in lower grades, more advanced courses or fine arts.
But she didn’t have any costs or savings to the system regarding the ideas she presented.
Board member Jim Klinefelter thought it seemed simplest to close some elementary schools and rezone the system. However, he praised the idea of a magnet school.
“Every place that they have a magnet school it’s a great asset to the school system,” Klinefelter said. “But whether it would be a success or not depends on how much money you get separate from the state.”
“I think all these are wonderful options,” board member Arthur Cottingham said.
But he was looking for more information about the effects of the plans on the system and the community.
When it came to scheduling the public hearings, Robison and Cottingham wanted to have more information before bringing the ideas to the public for discussion.
Cottingham said some of the ideas may prove impractical if the board examines them at length.
Robison pressed further, saying that along with proposals, the board would have to give the community the disadvantages and advantages of each proposal to allow them to make meaningful input.
“We’ve got to do all that legwork. The parents can’t do that,” Robison said. “Theirs is going to be an emotional reaction unless we have solid, concrete reasons for why we’re suggesting this or that possibility.”
But board members William Hutchings, Mary Harrington and Superintendent Frazier disagreed with the others. Frazier said she wasn’t comfortable recommending an idea without talking to more people.
Harrington thought presenting anything more than just the ideas themselves would stifle community residents’ responses.
“This is just a piece of paper,” Harrington said. “We might get out there when we do our hearings and we might find out that we take all of them off and they may just suggest something better.”
In the end, the board members decided to have another work session on Feb. 7 at 4:30 p.m. to gather more information about each proposal before scheduling public hearings.
Even though board member William Hutchings said he was ready to go to the public, he was pleased with the work session.
“I think this was the best beginning we’ve had since I’ve been on the board,” Hutchings said.
The board has been discussing school consolidation and system restructuring for years. He said he’s glad to finally see some action.
The regular board meeting will be next Thursday.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.