A Columbus pastor has accused the Muscogee County School District of intimidating teachers into silence about the proposed closing of two schools amid budget cuts.
The Rev. Richard Jessie of Revelation Missionary Baptist Church made the allegation during the public comment period at the Muscogee County School Board’s work session Monday evening.
No school district officials responded to the accusation.
Jessie claimed teachers and school administrators are intimidated and afraid to speak against the proposal to close Edgewood Elementary School and Marshall Middle School. “I’m sick of hearing ‘because my job is at stake,’” he said.
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Most of the comments during Monday’s work session restated last week’s arguments for and against the closings.
State budget cuts amount to a $21.1 million hit on MCSD for its fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1. The administration’s recommendation is based on trying to bridge the $40 million shortfall between $291 million in projected expenses and $251 million in projected revenue.
If MCSD uses $20 million of its projected fund balance, leaving $13 million in reserve (enough to cover 16 days of operations), officials have said, they still would need to find an additional $20 million to cut.
MCSD officials say closing Edgewood Elementary School would save $1,251,701 annually and closing Marshall Middle School would save $1,651,438 annually. Those schools were targeted, officials have said, for two reasons: size and location.
Their enrollments are significantly below the threshold that equates to full state funding (450 for elementary schools and 624 for middle schools).
Edgewood has 329 students in a building with a capacity for 463. It is among MCSD’s 20 elementary schools out of 34 below the 450-student threshold to equal full state funding. That means $4,412,490 in local money covers the difference, officials have said.
Marshall has 327 students in a building with a capacity for 675. It is among MCSD’s eight middle schools out of 12 below the 624-student threshold to equal full state funding. That means $6,235,734 in local money covers the difference, officials have said.
The state funding doesn’t go to each school; it goes to the district, and the district distributes the money to each school. So the state funding for elementary schools, for example, is based on the total number of elementary school students divided by 450.
The other reason Edgewood and Marshall are targeted for closing, officials say, is that they are located in areas close to other schools that have room to receive transfer students.
The administration also has proposed increasing class sizes by one to two students, which would reduce the number of teachers needed by as many as 89, officials have said. Considering the current attrition rates, as many as 40 teachers could be laid off. That would amount to saving $6,670,000 annually, officials have said.
So the total proposal — closing Edgewood and Marshall and increasing the class sizes — would save $9,578,139 but still leave a $3.8 million shortfall. MCSD chief financial officer Sharon Adams said Monday that interim superintendent John Phillips’ cabinet is looking at cuts across the district to make up the difference.
All of this is an effort to avoid furlough days, Phillips said. If the board doesn’t approve this proposal, he said, they might be forced to have 13 furlough days. One furlough day saves about $1 million in salaries, Adams said.
Like the Edgewood supporters before them, Marshall’s advocates noted the school has met the state’s performance standard, called Adequate Yearly Progress, despite being a Title I school, meaning a majority of its students come from families with low incomes.
Phillips said achievement has nothing to do with why the schools were targeted. He acknowledged, however, that these proposed cuts are “an agonizing thing to go through.”
Jessie said, “If the cuts have to come from the bottom, let them come from the top too.”
As required by state law before voting on closing a public school, the Muscogee County School District has scheduled two public hearings for the proposed closing of Edgewood Elementary School and Marshall Middle School.
The hearings for both schools will be in their buildings on the same dates and at the same times:
Edgewood cafeteria, 3835 Forrest Road, Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Marshall auditorium, 1830 Shepherd Drive, Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 p.m.
For more information, contact MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-748-2034.