Now is the time to close some schools

For the past five years, the Fayette County Board of Education has been in one financial crisis after another. This school district has over-built, over-employed, and over-spent.

Previous administrations and boards ignored the facts that were placed right before them. Moreover, as long as Fayette County was in the “good times,” no one cared to peer down the road into the future. Homes and schools were being built and the attitude of “if you build it, they will come,” prevailed. Albeit it was unthinkable that the good times would be replaced with an economic downturn, but there were glimpses of what was to come.

For the past several years, a Band-Aid approach has been used to remedy the FCBOE’s financial situation. Reduction of personnel, pay cuts, benefit supplements removed, reduction of the academic year, and stop-work days have been and continue to be the primary cost reductions implemented by the FCBOE.

With $15 million more to be reduced for next year’s budget, the talking and stalling of the Band-Aid approach needs to end.

Scott Austensen, Deputy of System Finance for the Georgia Department of Education, put it more succinctly when he told the public at the last school board meeting Fayette County has too many empty classrooms and excess staff. He went further and said these numbers will grow in the next five years.

Last Tuesday night, Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell, repeated the state DOE’s findings. “Fayette County is on the state’s watch-list. If we do not get our finances in order, the state will.”

Some citizens who are in communities that have schools identified as being on the FCBOE’s “closing list” have fought hard to keep their schools open. I applaud you. Anyone in your situation would do the same, but the suggestion that employees need to take a pay cut to keep school buildings open is nothing but placing another Band-Aid on the open gash that is now the FCBOE finances.

As student enrollment declines, the school district becomes smaller and the cost to keep all buildings open will continue to rise each year. With that in mind, will salaries continue to be cut to support these near empty buildings?

If you think that by cutting salaries no one will lose their job, one only needs to look back at 2009-2010. After a 5-0 vote in February 2009 to cut salaries 4.5 percent, 156 positions were lost. Cutting pay will not reduce the slated positions to be cut this year or any year.

There has been study after study of Fayette County’s demographics. All reported nearly the same conclusion: declining school-age population.

The school system administration has stated that for every school closed, $800,000 will be saved year after year. So are the persons posting and blogging to cut salaries ready to ask employees to continue to take additional pay cuts every year or shorten the school year more days?

What we should have, could have, or would have done, does not matter. In order to continue to see resurgence in Fayette County’s economic climate, it must continue to maintain a viable and financially secure school system.

The time for talking and debating is over. As unfortunate as it is, schools must be closed. Too much time has already been wasted.

Dana Camp

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Camp is a retired teacher who taught for many years in the Fayette system.]

ginga1414
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moc, Your Concerns Are Felt

I think for the most part we all moved to Fayette County in order to give our kids the best education and the best life we could provide. That's just what loving concerned parents do.

We wanted our children to have a life that was centered around family and the best of values. However, as parents, we are the ones who provide our children with the stability they need to get them through the pitfalls we all face in life.

It is a sad situation that our school system has reached a financial breaking point. But that is where we are. There is no getting around it.

As Dana Camp says, the Band-Aid approach hasn't solved any of the problems that our school system has to face. If we don't act now, it will be too late. We have put off the inevitable far too long. Procrastination is part of the problem. We are very fortunate, however, to have Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell on our side. He is very experienced with helping school systems that are in trouble.

Mr. Colwell has assured us that all members of our newly elected school board are working together in a cooperative and thoughtful manner. I have met and talked with every member of our school board, and they are all just as concerned with the future education of our children as we are. We can be very thankful for that.

The past grandstanding is gone. It is over. We can be very thankful for that.

In the transition ahead, we need to support our interim superintendent, the BOE, our teachers, their support staff, bus drivers, and most of all the children.

rmoc
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School Closing

Look at the darn map and explain why the child in brooks has to ride a bus over 10 miles to school. Even those kids who were in Northern Brooks had 40 minute bus rides to WMS and WHS..

ginga1414
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Absolutely Need To Close Schools!

When Fayette County was growing and new schools were being built, my children had to go with the flow. They had to change schools because the schools they were in had reached capacity.

The county is now going in the opposite direction. It only makes good sense to close schools that are no longer viable. No one wants to do that. No one wanted their kids to change schools when the county was growing.

However in the case with my children, reassignment to a new school was a learning experience for them. They still went to school with some of the classmates they had at Hood Avenue, but they stretched their wings and made new friends at North Fayette Elementary. They grew and thrived physically, emotionally, and intellectually because of the reassignment.

I heard one public official say "by closing those two schools (Brooks and Tyrone) you'll rip the hearts out of those two communities." The same official said that closing Brooks and Tyrone would "be the ruination of two towns, and contribute to the demise of small-town America."

I respectfully disagree. Small-town America is made up of people. The heart and soul of a small town is found in the people who live there. This country and Fayette County were built on the strength of the people who live here. The strength of a small-town does not depend on a school building. The strength of a community depends upon the strength of the people.

For decades and decades, the number one objective in Fayette County has been a quality education for all of our children. I attended the same meeting Dana Camp attended, and Dr. Colwell did say, "Fayette County is on the state's watch-list. If we do not get our finances in order, the state will." Suppose we don't get our finances in order; what happens then?

We have come to expect that our children will be taught by some of the most qualified and highly educated teaching professionals in the state. We have expected those wonderful teachers to teach our children for a pittance of what other teachers around the state receive. That won't be the case if we continually decrease and decrease our teachers compensation. And, I wouldn't blame our teachers one bit if they find it necessary to move their teaching careers to another county where they are appreciated.

I absolutely agree that it is past time to close schools in Fayette County. We have to all pull together and work for the betterment of all.

Husband and Fat...
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Very well said

The closing of schools and redistricting can be a very useful learning tool for the kids. We all hate to see the schools close, but times are tough and like they pointed out, we are going backwards in enrollment.

I say consolidate even more than what is proposed and then keep the best of the best teachers and pay them appropriately.

Then, when and if we need more schools we reopen or build when there is a sustained need.

heatjam
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Amen!!

Wholeheartedly agree! Plus the schools that are being considered to close are a good choice...albeit a sad one. This has been a long time coming.

ImFedUp
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Now is the time ...

It is actually PAST time, as you alluded. Though I work in the system, I am also a taxpayer ... and I whole-heartedly agree that school closings are necessary. Now is the time, too, for all who agree with drastic reform to stand up and be heard. Sadly, as is often the case, only those who are fighting the changes are speaking up.

faycocitizen
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ImFedUp is RIGHT

School closures are a must. We all need to speak up in support of necessary changes no matter how unpopular. I can only hope and pray that decisions are made in the best interest of the ENTIRE county.

g8trgrl
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Time to close schools

I am not surprised this county is in this boat right now. The previous BOE kept spending & spending. This county had chances to vote in other people - Dave Houston & Mary Kay previously. We have to pay the price for keeping the other people in there for so long. This Board could put off closing schools for a while & let SACS come do it.......The last time redistricting took place with the very expensive consultant - Brooks was put at higher numbers. Too bad the previous committee's work was thrown in the trash!