Next up: Redraw Fayette schools’ attendance boundaries

The work of the Fayette County School System’s redistricting committee is about to get underway again. The committee will meet Jan. 24 and will present a redistricting plan for the potential closure of four schools to the Fayette County Board of Education on Jan. 28. A final decision on the closure of three elementary schools and one middle school will likely not be made until March.

Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell said the timeline for the decision on school closures begins with the redistricting committee picking up its activities on Jan. 24. The committee at that meeting will continue its work into what redistricting would look like if as many as four schools were to close. Those schools include Fayette Middle School, Brooks Elementary, Tyrone Elementary and Fayetteville Intermediate (FIS).

Fayette Middle, Tyrone and Brooks have been identified for potential closure for more than a year. Both FIS (grades 3-5) and the adjacent Hood Avenue Primary (grades K-2) were also previously identified for closure, with students from both schools moving to Rivers Elementary northwest of Fayetteville. That plan was put on hold several months ago when a potential buyer for Rivers surfaced. The move to put FIS back on the potential closure list would mean that FIS would either close completely or consolidate with Hood Avenue Primary, Colwell said.

It will be at the Jan. 28 regular meeting of the school board that the committee will present a redistricting plan. The plan will not necessarily require a vote at that meeting, Colwell said. The redistricting committee will meet again on Jan. 31.

School board members at the Feb. 11 regular meeting will be asked to take a preliminary vote on the closure and redistricting issue or give the committee a new charge. If the board takes a preliminary vote, Colwell said two public hearings will be held prior to March 4. Once the public hearings are completed the redistricting committee will meet again on March 8.

The March 18 board meeting will include the final presentation from the redistricting committee. It will be at that meeting that the board will be asked for a final vote, Colwell said.

“We can’t wait any longer. We’ll be putting the school system in danger,” said Colwell.

The closure of one middle school and three elementary schools were a small part of the list of $15.1 million in potential budget cuts for next school year presented to the school board on Jan. 18. At a savings of $800,000 each, the closure of four schools would generate $3.2 million in savings, representing 21 percent of the amount proposed for reduction. The remaining cuts will be in personnel.

As for the other millions of dollars in anticipated cuts, Colwell said those specific numbers will be ready in time for the school board’s regular meeting in March or shortly thereafter. And while the board will not adopt the 2013-2014 budget until June, Colwell said he will be recommending that the school board render a decision by April so affected employees can be notified and so that needed preparations for the next school year can get underway.

The redistricting committee was put on hold in mid-October when the school board approved a recommendation by then-Superintendent Jeff Bearden to suspend the work until a potential property deal could be addressed. That potential property deal involves the sale of Rivers Elementary on Sandy Creek Road.

There is another topic that sometimes gets lost in the school closure conversation. It has become clear in the past few years that Fayette, with its rapidly decreasing student enrollment, has a systemwide total of 354 excess classrooms today and a projection of 545 excess classrooms in five years, according to state education officials.

Fayette has lost approximately 2,000 students since 2008, is projected to lose another 530 next year, mainly from elementary schools, and is projected to lose nearly 1,000 more by 2021. Beyond that, Fayette has opened five new schools since 2002, though the student enrollment figure today has decreased to what it was a dozen years ago.