Members of the Anniston Board of Education met in a work session Tuesday to discuss the city’s declining enrollment, the austere budget situation, and the system’s plans for the future. Superintendent Joan Frazier said it is time for Anniston to consider the closure of one of its seven schools.
“We have too many facilities open for the amount of students we have,” she said.
There are seven schools in the city system -– Anniston High School, Anniston Middle School and five elementary schools. Frazier said the system has approximately 2,400 students.
“We have two schools with under 200 students,” she noted.
Though enrollment is expected to grow by about 20 students next year, the long term trend is downward. Numbers from the 2010 Census show Anniston’s population at 23,106, almost 1,200 fewer residents than in 2000. It’s the lowest the city’s population has been since the 1930s.
Providing those students with the support they need is about to get a lot tougher.
Frazier said the city can afford to maintain its present class sizes if state funding formulas remain at current levels. No one believes they will.
Frazier already expects to spend next year’s $395,000 windfall -– money that will be freed up when the city pays off a bond -– on “living expenses” for the school system.
But the system has one thing in relative abundance –- school buildings. Frazier proposed that board members open a public discussion about plans for the future, plans that would likely include shutting down one school. Among the options proposed at the meeting:
-- Fewer elementary schools
-- Moving sixth-graders to the elementary schools and seventh- and eighth-graders to Anniston High School or a junior high in an existing elementary building
-- Selling a school building and using the money to build a new facility
Frazier stressed her ideas were “very, very preliminary,” and that an open discussion should be held. She said the community needs to decide what it wants for the future – magnet schools, perhaps, or a baccalaureate high school.
Board member William Hutchings knew what he wanted. Anniston High School, he said, won’t last another 10 years and needs to be replaced. He blasted the Anniston City Council for not passing a one-cent sales tax that could have paid for such a project.
“You’ve got these yap-yaps out there,” Hutchings said, referring to the city council. “But they’ve got no kids in school.” Hutchings said the county’s one-cent sales tax was criticized at first, but turned out to be “the best thing the county ever did.”
Frazier said her goal was not to assign blame but to plan for a solution. She said she’d like to hire a strategic planning expert, possibly Auburn University education professor James Wright, to talk to local parents and help draft a long-term plan.
Board member Bill Robison praised the idea, saying an outside source would be able to plan without “all the politics and skirt-pulling” that local politicians face.
“It’s just like a zoning question,” he said. “No amount of logic is going to soothe the emotions involved.” He said the board should respect those emotions, but “keep an eye on the goal.”
Frazier said that as a believer in neighborhood schools, she disliked the closure of any school. That brought on a round of reminiscences from board members about schools long gone. Robison recalled walking to Woodstock Elementary as a child. Hutchings said the closure of Carver “tore the heart out of that community.”
“Our neighborhoods like neighborhood schools,” Frazier noted.
The discussion was a work session, for informational purposes, and no action was taken on any of the plans discussed at the meeting.
Contact assistant metro editor Tim Lockette at: 256-235-3560.