What's next for school district after closing two schools?

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 22, 2013 

Now that the Muscogee County School Board has approved the administration's proposal to close Edgewood Elementary and Marshall Middle schools to make up for state budget cuts, students who would have attended there next school year will receive new assignments.

Mike Hudson, the Muscogee County School District's student services director, outlined that procedure during last week's public hearings:

• New assignment letters are expected to be mailed by May 29.

• Those students will have an extended time to request hardship transfers, from May 31 through June 14. Transfer applications are available at the central registration office in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, 2960 Macon Road. The office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. The phone number is 706-748-3217.

• Decisions on those hardship transfer requests will be mailed to parents by June 28.

All MCSD students are scheduled to report to their school to verify assignments Aug. 2. The first day of classes for the 2013-14 school year is Aug. 7.

Edgewood was projected to have 303 students in 2013-14. Those students will be reassigned the following ways:

• 101 to Brewer.

• 85 to Gentian.

• 83 to Rigdon Road.

• 34 to Wesley Heights.

Marshall was projected to have 390 students in 2013-14. Those students will be reassigned the following ways:

• 290 to Baker.

• 100 to Rothschild.

As a result, those moves will produce a domino effect on Baker, transferring 98 Baker students to Eddy and 52 Baker students to Rothschild. The reassigned Baker students will have the same extended time to apply for a hardship transfer as the Edgewood and Marshall students.

The MCSD administration is due to present its tentative budget for fiscal year 2014 at the school board's 5 p.m. June 3 called meeting. The final vote on the budget is scheduled for the regular 6 p.m. June 17 meeting. MCSD's fiscal year starts July 1.

State budget cuts amounted to a $21.1 million hit on MCSD. The district's projected revenue is $251 million; its preliminary expenses were $291 million. The past month's maneuvers have been designed to help fill that $40 million gap.

Closing the two schools is expected to save $2.9 million annually. The board's unanimous vote Monday night also included increasing class sizes by one or two students district-wide, which would reduce the number of teaching positions by 89, saving $6.6 million annually. Through attrition rates, some teachers in eliminated positions could be reassigned elsewhere in the district, but officials estimate the number of teacher layoffs could be as high as 40.

MCSD officials are preparing a proposed criteria to determine which teachers would be laid off. The board must approve that criteria. MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin wasn't reached for comment. It's too early to discuss the plan, said MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller.

"We are currently still in the budget process," Fuller said in an email. "The budget has not been approved. The school year is still under way. Retirements and resignations are still coming in, and, of course, vacancies are under review.

"Our human resources department will be communicating with employees involved in school closings and working diligently as the school year ends as needs are assessed and schedules are completed to place employees."

Monday's vote amounted to saving $9.5 million (closing two schools, increasing class sizes district-wide) in the $40 million shortfall. The MCSD administration has proposed using $20 million from the reserve fund, which would leave $13 million in reserve, enough to run the district for 16 days. The board has said it won't raise property taxes, keeping the millage rate at 23.37 for the 17th straight year, so interim superintendent John Phillips and his cabinet have been trying to find an additional $10.5 million in cuts.

And they found them, MCSD chief financial officer Sharon Adams said Wednesday.

"We are in balance now," she said.

Adams declined to be specific until the tentative budget of $270.6 million is presented June 3, but she said the additional cuts come from buses, computers, textbooks, travel and utilities, as well as not filling some vacant positions and reorganizing others.

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