It was standing room only 30 minutes before the meeting started. They came with hopes that their schools would be saved from the budget ax. But the packed room Monday night at the Muscogee County Public Education Center turned into a funeral.
As expected, the Muscogee County School Board approved interim superintendent John Phillips’ recommendation to close Edgewood Elementary and Marshall Middle schools and increase class sizes, which could mean layoffs for as many as 40 teachers.
The only question was the vote tally. It was unanimous, 9-0, including Athavia “A.J.” Senior’s vote via telephone, as allowed by state law. She was absent while mourning the death of her mother.
The cuts are designed to save $9.5 million as the district tries to fill its projected $40 million budget deficit for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. It has $291 million in expense requests but $251 million in estimated revenue.
Muscogee County School District administrators say the cuts are necessary after they received an email April 12 that informed them the district’s state funding will be cut $21.1 million. Edgewood and Marshall were targeted because their enrollments are significantly below capacity and they are near schools with room to receive transfer students, MCSD officials have said.
The only resident to speak during the public forum portion of Monday’s meeting was Nathan Smith. As the volume of his complaints increased, board member Beth Harris of District 8 asked him, “Please lower your voice.”
“It’s my turn to speak,” he replied. Then he listed four alternative ways to save money and save Edgewood and Marshall:
Fire the interim superintendent.
Bid out the contract for legal counsel.
Sell all unused property.
Stop current and planned construction projects.
“We don’t need anymore schools,” Smith said. “We need Marshall; we need Edgewood. Have some heart and vote no.”
Board members indeed expressed their hearts. They spoke with compassion for the schools’ displaced families and staff. They noted this proposal has been tough on the district’s central office as well. But, faced with the alternative of having 13 furlough days for the entire district, they ultimately voted with their heads.
“This is not our choice,” said District 7 representative Shannon Smallman. “If there was a way around this, we’d do it.”
District 6 representative Mark Cantrell tried. He made a motion, seconded by at-large representative Cathy Williams, to delay the vote. He said the public has asked for more time to find alternatives. Phillips, however, insisted the board doesn’t have time. The tentative budget must be approved June 3, two weeks before the final vote June 17.
“If you move this out of the realm of the timeline we have, the ramifications will be grave, and you’ll have to live with that,” he said, “In time, I guarantee you will see the wisdom of this recommendation.”
Cantrell polled each of Phillips’ cabinet members sitting in front of the board table. One by one, the officials affirmed their support for the proposal. Having heard that wisdom, Cantrell withdrew his motion to delay the vote.
“The time constraints are real,” said board vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1. “I love neighborhood schools just like many of us. But, with the current support we receive from out state legislature, we can no longer offer that efficiently.”
Lunch prices increased
The board approved the MCSD School Nutrition Program’s recommendation to increase lunch prices by 10 cents for students and 75 cents for visiting adults. So next school year’s lunch prices for students will be $2 for elementary school and $2.25 for grades 6-12. The lunch price for visiting adults will be $4.50.
The board approved the following administrative moves Phillips recommended:
Brenda Thomas to principal of Arnold Middle School, replacing the retiring Lura Reed. Thomas has worked in MCSD for eight years. She taught at Blackmon Road Middle School 2005-08 and Muscogee Evening School 2007-08. She has been assistant principal at Veterans Memorial Middle School since 2008.
Renee Tharp to principal of Dawson Elementary School, replacing the retiring Denise Perryman. Tharp has worked in MCSD for 23 years. She taught at Double Churches Elementary from 1990 to 2008 and has been assistant principal at Fox Elementary School since 2008.
Stephanie Dalton to principal of Forrest Road Elementary School, replacing the retiring Beatrice Riley. Dalton has worked in MCSD for 12 years. She taught at Eastway Elementary School 2001-08. She was an academic coach at Lonnie Jackson Academy 2008-09 and Rigdon Road Elementary School 2009-11. She has been the shared assistant principal at Rigdon and Georgetown Elementary School since 2011.
Lisa Whitaker to principal of Hannan Elementary Magnet Academy, replacing the retiring Ann Crowder. Whitaker has worked in MCSD for 14 years. She taught at South Columbus Elementary School 1999-2000 and Midland Academy 2000-10. She has been the shared assistant principal at Allen Elementary School and River Road Elementary School since 2010.
Patrice McFadden to principal of South Columbus Elementary School, replacing Burl Levins, who will succeed retiring principal Mary Avery at Muscogee Elementary School. McFadden has worked in MCSD for three years. She taught at Muscogee Elementary School 2010-11 and Waddell Elementary School 2011-12. She has been assistant principal at Mathews Elementary School since 2012.
Marcus Dubose to student services director, replacing the retiring Mike Hudson. Dubose comes to MCSD from the Phenix City Public Schools, where he has been principal of Meadowlane Elementary School since 2007. He was assistant principal at Phenix City Intermediate School 2006-07, South Girard School 2005-06 and Ridgecrest Elementary School 2004-05. He taught at Phenix City Intermediate 2000-04 and Judy Bush Elementary in Houston 1997-2000.
Mary Lewis to director of programs for exceptional students, replacing Patrick Knopf, who succeeded the retired research and accountability director, Carol Bradshaw. Lewis has worked in MCSD for 12 years. She taught special education at Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy 2001-03 and Cusseta Road Elementary School 2003-06. She has been an instructional specialist for exceptional students since 2006, including interim program director July 2010 to October 2010.
Brenda Reed to human resources director, replacing Kathy Tessin, who succeeded the retired chief human resources officer, Don Cooper. Reed has worked in MCSD for six years. She was a teacher recruiter 2007-11 and has been human resources coordinator since 2011.