Thursday evening at Cobb Elementary School, the main difference was the size of the audience.
While the Tenth Street cafeteria was nearly full with more than 60 people, Cobb had a light crowd of about 25 — and nearly three-quarters of them worked at the school or at the central office. The relative size of each school could explain the difference, however. Tenth Street has the largest elementary enrollment in the system, 355. Its enrollment is more than twice that of Cobb, the smallest elementary school in the system with 154 students.
Of course, that disparity is exactly the reason the system is looking to reorganize.
Since 2005, the system’s enrollment has fallen by 319 students, a figure larger than the enrollment at any of the city’s elementary schools, with the exception of Tenth Street. In addition, the population of the city has shifted geographically, creating the imbalance between the elementary schools.
At the very least, the system needs to rezone its school attendance lines, Superintendent Joan Frazier said at the meeting.
“The last time we did that was in 2001, when we closed Norwood Elementary,” Frazier said. “About every ten years or so, usually close (to) or coinciding with a census, we have to look at rezoning our elementary schools.”
But she and the board would also like to look at ways to more effectively use system resources, she added, which could include closing the middle school.
Consolidation could save the system money on bus transportation, utilities and personnel including cafeteria staff, custodians and administration. The number of teachers would not change, because teachers follow the students to whichever school they are transferred, Frazier said. The money saved could then be shifted to things that like more teachers, technology, curriculums or programs for the students.
“The less money that we have to spend on maintaining infrastructure translates into more money that we have to spend on programs and direct benefits for students,” Frazier said.
The two consolidation options the system has been considering would both involve closing the middle school and moving sixth graders back to the elementary schools.
In the first option, the system would build new space at Anniston High School to accommodate the seventh and eighth grades. In the second option, the system would reduce the number of elementary schools to four and use the fifth elementary school to create a junior high for seventh and eighth grades.
Selling the middle school would make renovations possible at the other schools, she said.
Parents at the meeting had heard rumors of Cobb Elementary closing.
“I don’t want you to mess with Cobb,” one of the parents said.
Frazier assured the residents that there had been no discussion of closing Cobb.
“There has been some input and some very informal discussion about making Cobb a junior high,” Frazier said, adding that parents from every elementary school had expressed the same feelings about their schools. Anniston is very attached to its neighborhood schools, she said.
Another parent wanted to know what criteria the system would use to decide which elementary school would make a good junior high, if it decided to go that route.
Frazier said the system would look at the age of the school, how easily it could be retrofitted to house the older students, the size and the location of the school.
Board member Bill Robison added that whichever school might become a junior high, the parents and students who were displaced would receive some advantages as well.
“They’re going to gain their sixth-grader being at that still fairly close neighborhood school,” Robison said. “And you’re going to have your seventh- and eighth-graders close to you.”
Board member William Hutchings said he was in full support of reorganizing the system.
“I think this is a very good move,” Hutchings said. “It should have been done several years ago.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper 256-235-3545.