Greenville, Manchester high schools might merge as Meriwether County school board votes Friday

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 16, 2014 

The fate of Greenville and Manchester high schools could be decided Friday, when the Meriwether County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on one of three options as it faces a projected $1 million deficit for next fiscal year.

The called meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the central office board room, 2100 Gaston St., in Greenville.

Meriwether has seven public schools in the county: Greenville and Manchester high schools; Greenville and Manchester middle schools; and George E. Washington (Woodbury), Mountain View (Manchester) and Unity (Luthersville) elementary schools.

None of the reorganization options would affect the elementary schools. The options superintendent Carol Lane has presented are:

• Option 1: One high school, one middle school. This would merge the two high schools into Manchester's building and the two middle schools into Greenville's building. Manchester High has 467 students; Greenville High has 348 students.

The projected deficit would be cut to $306,400, so it still would require an increase of 0.68 mills in property taxes to balance the budget.

• Option 2: Two middle-high schools. This would merge Manchester Middle into Manchester High, and Greenville Middle into Greenville High. Manchester Middle has 397 students; Greenville Middle has 286 students.

The deficit actually would increase to $1,244,740 because only $120,000 in personnel expenses would be saved and the middle-high schools would need an estimated $416,740 in renovations, so this option would require an increase of 2.77 mills in property taxes to balance the budget.

• Option 3: Status quo.

The deficit would be $1,010,000, so it would require an increase of 2.24 mills in property taxes to balance the budget.

Lane said she won't make a recommendation.

"It is up to the BOE to decide which option they want," she said.

Board chairman Leon Coverson wasn't reached for comment this week, but he told the Ledger-Enquirer in a previous interview, "The main thing is that we need one consolidated high school, but if the high schools merge, we've got a problem there: Manchester is in the southern part of the county, and Greenville is in the middle."

Consolidating the high schools into Greenville would make geographic sense, but its building isn't large enough, so Manchester is the proposed location. Lane's presentation estimated the increased transportation costs of $382,700 to bus the Greenville students to Manchester would be outweighed by the $972,500 in savings on reduced personnel.

Board members Robert Hawk (vice chairman), Willie A. Hinton Jr., Seth McInvale and Allen Parham weren't reached for comment.

Although she is staying neutral, Lane didn't hold back in a previous interview when she explained the school district's situation to the Ledger-Enquirer.

"We're in dire straights," she said.

In her 10 years as superintendent, Lane has seen Meriwether endure a flood of financial woes:

• State funding has been cut $14,542,268.

• Expenses have increased, including insurance, retirement and transportation.

• The budget has dropped from about $35 million to $28 million. "And we basically have no reserve," Lane said.

• Property tax revenue has decreased as businesses have closed or moved, such as Goody Products (hair accessories), Dundee (textiles and apparel) and MeadWestvaco (packaging).

• Enrollment has fallen from 3,900 to 2,912 as residents have looked for work elsewhere.

Auto parts supplier Mando announced in December 2012 plans to open a second plant in the Meriwether Industrial Park, on the county's northern border with Troup County, but it's too soon for the school district to feel a significant boost.

Among the cost savings the district has implemented:

• Furloughed teachers for 10 days and reduced the school year by five days.

• Increased class sizes.

• Eliminated positions (federal programs director, safe and drug-free coordinator, social worker, support specialists, clerical staff, pre-K resource coordinators, two of four graduation coaches, instructional lead teachers at each school, five media specialists, one counselor and one finance department employee).

• Eliminated programs (electives, driver education, alternative school and field trips).

• Implemented an energy management program that has saved $1.6 million.

• Combined the transportation director and maintenance director positions into one job.

• Reduced staff pay, substitute teacher pay, the number of phone and fax lines and frequency of grounds maintenance

• And some top-level administrators are working at 49 percent of their pay -- even the superintendent.

"I've got to look myself in the mirror," Lane said. "… We have cut everything we can cut. All of us in the central office have taken on two and three jobs. We're worn out, but we still work on weekends and vacation.

"Our mission statement has in it that we're willing to do what it takes. Some have left, but many are still here to do what it takes to teach our kids. … This is a mission for me now. It's no longer a job. It's absolutely a mission."

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