Richard Hyatt: Schools proposal in direct conflict with MCSD past

May 7, 2013 

John Phillips discussed the possibility of 40 teachers losing their jobs and presented a plan to relocate children at two local schools with the emotions of a debate over whether he should use black or blue ink to endorse his impressive paycheck.

The temporary superintendent performed like a mechanical man Monday as he outlined a 59-page proposal to reduce the Muscogee County School District budget in the wake of more reductions in state funding.

On the eve of National Teacher Day, Phillips was the ringmaster of a dry discussion that called for the closing of Edgewood Elementary and Marshall Middle School and a countywide increase in pupil-teacher ratios.

More than once, Phillips harped on how many teachers work for him. That isn't a great stretch since 86 percent of the district's $251 million budget is personnel.

"The problem is we have too many teachers," Phillips said. "We need more people to retire or move."

In case no one heard him, he said it another way. "You've got to RIF people. That's where the money is."

Phillips also cited the number of schoolhouses. "We have a 12-bedroom home, and we only have six children."

But Edgewood wasn't targeted because its enrollment has dipped to 326 students -- below the 450 required to qualify for state funding. It made the list because seven contiguous schools have empty desks.

This also allows the system to dispose of other properties since there are plans to relocate alternative programs from Rose Hill, Woodall and Daniel to the Edgewood campus.

These revelations shouldn't have come at such a late date. As one board member noted, "We've seen this train coming." But there they were, with the clock ticking, being forced to reach a consensus on vital decisions.

It was a bizarre session. An interim leader proposed long-range plans and a lineup of administrators suggested quantum changes that were in direct conflict with the past. They went against the concept of neighborhood schools, the longstanding plea for smaller classes and a policy of separating alternative programs at different locations.

The board did everything but vote. They gave the administration the right to plan for school closings without the required public hearings. They didn't block the proposal to alter class sizes and fire 40 teachers and proceed with other important changes in 2015.

These things occurred at a last-minute called board meeting without a public agenda and without the usual TV cameras that enable the community to monitor their performance.

Our teachers are now left to wonder whether they'll survive or whether their contract will be aborted. This doesn't seem to matter to Phillips. He's a short timer, who won't be around to look into the tearful eyes of unemployed educators whose only mistake was a desire to teach our children.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.

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