Marshall Middle added to Edgewood as schools targeted for closing; teacher layoffs expected

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 6, 2013 

Marshall Middle School is the other school, along with Edgewood Elementary School, the Muscogee County School District administration is proposing to close to save money amid state budget cuts. Teacher layoffs and increased class sizes also are expected to be needed, officials said.

The administration presented its proposal during the Muscogee County School Board’s called meeting Monday evening. The board gave its consensus to allow the administration to move forward with its proposal and gather more information before a final vote. It must schedule the two public hearings state law requires to be conducted before a school board can vote on closing a public school.

Click here to download the Muscogee County School District's cost reduction proposal.

Cathy Williams, the nine-member board’s lone county-wide representative, asked the administration to simultaneously prepare alternatives to closing the schools.

“No certain peoples should have to feel this pain,” she said.

State budget cuts amount to $21.1 million for the district’s fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1. The preliminary budget shows a shortfall of $40 million ($291 million in requested expenditures and $251 million in projected revenue). The proposal presented Monday is part of the administration’s effort to plug that gap.

If the district uses $20 million of its projected fund balance, leaving $13 million in reserve (enough to cover 13 days of operations), officials still would need to find an additional $20 million to cut.

District officials looked for schools to close that fit two criteria:

• Too far under capacity to equal full state funding.

• Attendance zones adjacent to schools that also are under capacity and can receive students from closed schools.

Edgewood and Marshall fit that description. Muscogee County School District officials say closing Edgewood would save $1,251,701 annually and closing Marshall would save $1,651,438 annually.

District officials also proposed increasing class sizes by one to two students, which would reduce the number of teachers needed by as many as 89. Considering current attrition rates, as many as 40 teaching slots could be cut. That would amount to saving $6,670,000 annually, officials said.

All of which brings the proposal’s total annual projected savings to $9,578,139.

Trying to swallow all of the numbers in the 59-page PowerPoint presentation, Williams said, “I feel like I’m drinking out of a fire hose because we’re seeing it for the first time just like the public.”

But she digested enough information to contend the proposal isn’t convincing enough yet. She asked a series of questions calling for more data, and she asked the administration to look at rezoning the entire district.

“I don’t disagree with the premise that we have to close schools,” she said. “I just want to look at it district-wide to be fair.”

The state funds school districts based on their enrollments. Districts receive money based on 450 students for grades K-5, 624 for grades 6-8 and 970 for grades 9-12. But that funding is for the entire district, officials emphasized, not for each school.

Edgewood’s students would be reassigned to Brewer, Gentian, Rigdon Road or Wesley Heights. Marshall’s students would be reassigned to Baker or Rothschild. Some students at Baker would move to Eddy.

Edgewood has 329 students in a building with a capacity for 463. It is among the 20 elementary schools out of 34 in the distric below the 450-mark to equal full state funding. That means $4,412,490 in local money covers the difference.

Marshall has 327 students in a building with a capacity for 675. It is among the eight middle schools out of 12 in the district below the 624-mark to equal full state funding. That means $6,235,734 in local money covers the difference.

“We simply can’t afford to do that anymore,” said interim superintendent John Phillips.

He noted the proposal also helps the district’s budget to avoid furlough days for next school year. Payroll is 86 percent of the budget, he said, and one furlough day saves about $1 million in the district.

Sharon Adams, Muscogee County School District chief financial officer, said this proposal to save $9,578,139 still leaves a $3.8 million shortfall. But if the board doesn’t approve the plan after the two public hearings, the district would have to find another way to save $13 million, Adams said.

“That’s 13 (furlough) days,” she said, “and we don’t want to go down that road.”

The proposal also includes selling, repurposing or leasing vacant facilities at 29th Street, Rosemont Elementary, Bibb Elementary and the Daniel Center. Edgewood would be repurposed to house alternative students, the Woodall Center and the Sara Spano Clothing Bank. The proposal also has a phase for fiscal year 2015, which includes making Richard Middle School a total magnet and ending block scheduling in high schools.

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