Concerned parents at Inman Elementary, recently discussed at a Board of Education meeting as a possible candidate for closure, seemed mostly unsatisfied with the answers they got at a question and answer session with Board member Dr. Bob Todd Tuesday night in the school's cafeteria.
Todd and fellow Board member Marion Key agreed to speak and field questions, though Todd took all of the questions over about an hour. Most of the parents seemed blindsided by the talk of potentially closing Inman, which came up at the most recent meeting on Aug. 6. Prior to that meeting, the discussion had primarily revolved around Hood Avenue Primary, Fayette Intermediate, and Fayette Middle school, along with Tyrone and Brooks Elementaries, though Superintendent Jeff Bearden has been adamantly against closing those two.
Person after person defended Inman's quality of facilities, technology, students, and faculty and the primary question almost always came back to the same place: why is Inman being considered for closure at all?
Phil Gilliam was the first parent to speak and put that question to Dr. Todd, "why was Inman, a brand new school with a high volume of students, nearly 500 students, with a high functioning student body, faculty, with a high quality after school program, ever even put on the school board's list in the first place?"
"It is there, primarily, to open the door to discussion beyond where we are," Dr. Todd replied.
Further questions in a similar vein were met with a similar answer. Todd maintained that the mention of Inman was no more than exploratory and that, ultimately, all schools in the County are in consideration, "this school has excess capacity, so do all the other schools around us. It is on there purely for discussion. We cannot, or should not take it off, but that does not mean we cannot or should not add another school. Our point all along has been: the options that have been presented are extremely limited. They do not completely address the issue of school closures. That's why it's there."
Joe Fisher. the next questioner, wanted to know why Inman seems to have been added to the clo
sure list "in the eleventh hour last week," and went on to ask, in reference to Gilliam's question, "from what I'm hearing you say, doesn't that open up every school in the County?"
"For the record, Inman didn't come up last Monday night for the first time," Todd answered, explaining that it had been discussed as far back as May by the Superintendent and the Board.
"Then why was it not in one of the four proposals the Superintendent presented to the Board?" Fisher countered.
"It was left off," Todd said.
Fisher then asked, "if you're saying that you are looking at every school, then why even put a name to schools, why not just say we're looking at the whole County?"
"That is exactly our point," Todd replied, and went on to explain that what he had wanted all along was a cost analysis for closures of all schools. He said that was the first question he asked when the talk of school closures began, and yet "we still don't have a complete cost analysis."
Todd frequently referenced that cost analysis in his answers, which he said he expects will be "forthcoming soon," but in its absence he could not say whether or not he believed Inman should be on the closure list.
Several parents argued for the outstanding quality of Inman's facility (only five years old), staff, and technology, referring to it as one of the few true "21st Century" schools in the County.
"Have you looked at the technology in this school?" one man asked. "Go over to Brooks or Tyrone and look at the technology there and then come back here and see the difference. It's day and night."
Many parents also talked about how carefully they had searched for a home and that sending their kids to Inman had been a big part of choosing where to live. One woman said if the school closed "there would be no reason for me to stay in Fayette County because I moved here for Inman."
Todd also addressed questions about possible revenue generating ideas for the County, including charging tuition for out of County student who want to come in, an idea that has been discussed before as a way to shore up the budget. He said that, in surveying citizens last Summer, they said no to the idea. Other people have, however, come back to raise the question again, he said.
One man didn't buy Todd's explanations, believing there are underlying political reasons for Inman's inclusion on the list, as well as the proposal to open Rivers Elementary.
"There's got to be an elephant in the room here. Why is this school on the list, and Rivers on the East and West bypass. That's what I know is going on here and why it was added, and that's the real reason. I don't think it has nothing to do with the quick and dirty numbers, it's political, and that's my opinion."
Todd declined comment.
Several parents made an appeal on behalf of their children, one woman saying her grandchildren were "at home right now upset...our focus should be on the children."
One of the last questioners expressed what many in the crowd were feeling, "Dr. Todd, respectfully, I don't seem to be getting any of the answers to the questions. It appears to me, it just appears, that maybe the questions that we're asking, you and the Board are not prepared to give a concrete answer."
The next Board of Education meeting will be on August 20 at 7p.m., and there will also be a public hearing regarding proposed school closures and redistricting of schools,taking place August 30 starting at 7 p.m. in the Fayette County High School cafeteria.
A presentation from Superintendent Bearden on school closures can be found on the Fayette County Board of Education website.