Public hearings Monday will allow citizens to discuss a proposal to close some Dougherty County schools. Since board members announced they were considering the move, people in East Albany have voiced their concerns.
Under the plan, two schools in that community would be shut down. The first of two public hearings is underway. Board members agree that some schools need to be closed, the question is: which ones?
Chris Bailey, who owns Tay's Restaurant in East Albany, is a Dougherty Middle School alumnus, along with his three children. Now he's trying to save the school from closing. "I'm just one person, one voice, but we need to get more people behind us to let our representatives know, hey look, not our school, not now. Let's redo this, let's rethink this, hold on."
Consultants presented school board members with a plan to close Dougherty Middle and Sylvester Road Elementary and re-purpose Magnolia Elementary. If it goes through it would save the system two million dollars a year in the general fund and avoid $11 million in needed renovations to those schools.
Some East Albany residents say this is all happening too fast. But school board chairman, Carol Tharin says they started looking at the student population back in October of 2011. "So this is not anything new. It's not something we pulled out of the air in the last few weeks, or the last few months. It's been an ongoing study."
School board members agree that some schools need to be closed due to the declining student population. But which schools has become the center of the debate.
"We know we're going to have to close, one middle school and one or two elementary schools. And I want to see their proposals for various options so that we can make a decision that's the best decision money wise and community wise," said School board member Lane Price.
The occupancy at Sylvester Road Elementary is at 108%, more than many of the other schools. But student population isn't the only thing school board members are looking at. "We look at the age of the school, the status of the building itself, what does it need does it have to be brought up to some new codes? Can we add on? There's just a lot that has got to be addressed," said Price.
And school board members are hoping that two public hearings will help guide them in their decision.
There's no specific deadline to make a decision, but board members are expected to vote on the proposal at their February 11th school board meeting. Another public hearing is scheduled for Thursday at noon.