Muscogee County School Board reschedules meeting to hear proposal to close 'schools'

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 1, 2013 

Although the Muscogee County School Board's 13-month superintendent search doesn't appear closer to conclusion after Wednesday evening's 70-minute closed session, the potential closing of Edgewood Elementary School now has a new date for discussion.

The Muscogee County School District administration had planned for Wednesday's called meeting to include its proposal to close Edgewood and repurpose or declare as surplus other facilities. But the presentation was postponed due to the death of interim superintendent John Phillips' older sister.

The presentation has been rescheduled for a called meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. The official purpose also has been tweaked. The notice now doesn't mention Edgewood by name but says the presentation will include a proposal to close "schools."

MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller, who sent the meeting notice, didn't respond to an email and voice mail Wednesday asking for clarification.

The Georgia Legislature's budget cuts amount to a $23 million hit on the school district's budget of about $350 million for next school year and more than $144 million since 2003, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

District officials have declined to comment and haven't released any documents pertaining to the pending proposal to close Edgewood, but some numbers available indicate why it is a target: The current building on Forrest Road is 59 years old and only 71 percent full (328 students, 463 capacity).

Opponents of closing Edgewood cite other statistics: Despite being a Title I school -- meaning it serves students from predominantly low-income families -- Edgewood has met the state standards, called Adequate Yearly Progress, 10 straight years, including in all seven of the criteria for the most recent report card, 2010-11.

Superintendent search

The board wasn't satisfied with the four finalists it interviewed in December and fired search consultant McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Neb., in January to hire the consultant who led its previous two superintendent searches, Glenn Brock of Atlanta.

The board interviewed an undisclosed candidate Sunday in closed session at the Atlanta office of Brock's law firm, Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough. Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 said he missed that session because he had to travel out of town on business, but he was able to have his own interview with the candidate Sunday. Varner said he met with him -- yes, him, that was the pronoun he used for the undisclosed candidate -- in the airport.

After the closed session Wednesday, Varner was asked for an update on the superintendent search and repeated the mantra, "The process is ongoing."

Varner declined to say whether the candidate who was interviewed Sunday still is a viable option or whether the board will interview other candidates. Asked for the next step, he said, "I don't know that we have any definitive next step at this point in time."

State law requires the board to announce up to three finalists 14 days before voting to hire a superintendent.

Other meetings

Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Downton Elementary Magnet Academy, the board will host its inaugural community VOICE forum.

VOICE stands for Value Opinions, Involvement and Concerns in Education.

Varner announced earlier this year the intent of the forums, to be held three times each year, is to improve communication between MCSD officials and residents. The forum's notice says, "Our goal is to raise awareness, dispel rumors, address concerns, answer questions and receive suggestions. There is no agenda for these meetings except to give you a voice in the education of your children."

The board's regular work session and regular monthly meetings are set as scheduled, May 13 at 5 p.m. and May 20 at 6 p.m., respectively. Those gatherings also will be two of the three public hearings on the board's millage levy.

The board isn't increasing the millage rate, but growth in the property digest is expected to increase its tax revenue approximately 2 percent for next fiscal year. State law requires the board to conduct three hearings on the millage levy if it intends to benefit from such growth. The third hearing will be June 3 at 5 p.m.

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