The discussion is ongoing for school closures in Fayette County and though the discussion has, thus far, has been for closing three schools, at Wednesday morning’s workshop, board members also asked to see what the cost effectiveness would be of closing Tyrone and Brooks Elementary.
Fayette County School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden had recommended the board of education consider closing three schools in the system to help make up for the expected dips in revenue and the county’s ever-decreasing enrollment levels.
Bearden explained his reasoning for suggesting the closing of three schools – Hood Avenue Primary, Fayetteville Intermediate and Fayette Middle School- and the opening of one other- Rivers Elementary- to the board of education, but the primary reason was the bottom line – it will save the school system approximately $1.6 million per year.
The school system has been facing declining revenues since fiscal year 2010, with an estimated projected loss of between $10 and $25 million current and future revenue from state and federal authorities as a result of a slowing economy and the decreasing student population.
At the beginning of the May 2 workshop, Bearden explained his reasoning for determining the three schools he’d chosen for possible closure.
“All middle and elementary schools were reviewed. I recommended the schools that I did based on the age of the facility, where the current students would be relocated, reutilization possibilities of the closed facilities and my desire to use Rivers Elementary as it was intended to be used upon construction.”
Board members, however, also wanted answers to question about enrollment, student, maintenance and operational costs and proposed feeder patterns.
Bearden was advised that the board “needed to look at a proposal that includes more schools” from school board chairman Leonard Presberg.
If the board of education approves any of Bearden’s proposals there will have to be a redistricting committee to address all the issues. Or, the board could decide to combine a school closure and redistricting into one vote.
“If so, I would still recommend that this vote take place no later than December so our community will be informed.”
Bearden also noted there was a possibility of closing two additional elementary schools - Brooks and Tyrone-- which have the lowest enrollment and thus a higher per pupil cost ratio. Additionally, it was noted, the school board would otherwise have to give Tyrone Elementary School’s septic system serious consideration.
“It has been in question for a number of years and if it fails, how much will it cost. Nobody can predict when it will go.”
Though the school needs to add to its septic field, so far the board hasn’t been able to find useable property. Adding to the problem, not only do septic tanks not historically do well in the Tyrone area, but the town of Tyrone has, thus far, steadfastly refused to allow the school to link to the town’s sewer system.
School board member Janet Smola pointed out that since their last round of discussions about the possibility of closing Tyrone Elementary that the town had signed a resolution in support of whatever measures were necessary to keep the school open.
“It is the cornerstone of the community. We might find the leadership more agreeable now, to an agreement.”
Closing all of four indicated elementary schools would bring the system’s elementary school capacity to about 85 percent, saving an approximate $3 million in revenue.
By the end of a long and hotly debated discussion, Bearden was left with four options to bring back before the board: closing Fayette Middle, Hood Avenue Primary and Fayetteville Intermediate and opening Rivers; the original proposal, plus closing Tyrone Elementary; the original proposal plus closing Brooks Elementary; and, fourth, the original proposal and closing both Brooks and Tyrone Elementary.
The board is expected to have options voted on after extensive public hearings and summer workshops and they expect the process to be completed by December so the changes will take effect for the 2013-14 school year.