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Richard Hyatt: No more backyard education in Muscogee County

Trailers are for sale or rent as the Muscogee County School District is finally getting out of the mobile home business.

When the last portable classroom was hauled out from behind Hardaway High School this week it signaled the end of backyard education in the county, fulfilling a campaign promise first made nearly 20 years ago.

Anyone riding past Hardaway has seen the trailer population grow and expand as the enrollment at the school has grown. At times, more than a dozen trailers were neatly arranged on school grounds. (A few more trailers and McDonald's might have put up a drive-thru.)

It hasn't been a pretty sight, and for some people it has been a reminder of campaign promises made in a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote back in 1996.

That was the first time local voters debated whether to add a penny sales tax to build seven new schoolhouses and improve some of the existing ones. The pitch to voters was if we paid the extra penny, our children would no longer have to go to class in a trailer.

That will be true when the 2014-2015 school year begins, but why did it take all this time to get them into the main building?

Myles Caggins is jumping for joy and while he's celebrating the school official explains that the delay can be traced to years of a culture known as "No Child Left Behind."

Under that plan, if a child was assigned to an under-performing school, the parents of the student had the right to request a transfer to one making adequate progress.

"And we couldn't say no," explains Caggins, the district's chief operating and facilities officer or -- in plain English -- the person in charge of the system's building and grounds.

Schools like Hardaway, Shaw and Northside were popular sites, which kept enrollment on the rise and made classes crowded. When the law changed and school districts could turn down transfer requests, student numbers slowly went down.

Caggins is overjoyed because he knows how costly those buildings were. Some were bought and some were leased and every one of them was expensive to heat, cool and maintain.

But by the last day of June, Muscogee County will be out of the trailer business. A few may survive for office space, but no students will be expected to learn in a rolling classroom.

This is good news. Getting students under one roof should be more convenient, more secure and more equitable. It may not lead to overnight improvements in test scores or student discipline but over the long haul it will.

And if you want a classroom to put in your backyard, you'll soon be able to visit and get one for your very own.