Dougherty County School Board Superintendent Joshua Murfree has announced a special called
meeting Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the school administration boardroom to discuss the possible closure of Magnolia Elementary School. The Dougherty County School System, facing falling enrollment, a shrinking tax base and dwindling state dollars, is looking for ways to save money.
ALBANY — Dougherty County School System Superintendent Joshua Murfree late Monday announced a special called meeting of the Board of Education, prompting an angry reaction from one board member and effectively overriding a community organization’s planned rally.
Thursday’s meeting, scheduled for the school administration board room at 1:30 p.m., will center around the possible closure of Magnolia Elementary School.
The system is looking at an anticipated $9.6 million shortfall in its upcoming budget. Faced with falling enrollment, an eroding tax base and budget cuts by the state, the system asked urban design consultant Eric Bosman of Kimly-Horn Associates to research possible school closures and consolidations to save money.
Murfree’s called session was a surprise to many and sparked a sharp exchange between board member Darrel Ealum, who is out of the country and will not be able to attend Thursday’s meeting, and the superintendent.
“I told you I was going to be out of the country until April 23,” Ealum wrote in an email Tuesday to Murfree. “Choosing to hold a significant meeting with prior knowledge of my absence and when you know I will return four days after the called meeting is impertinent, ungracious and inconsiderate.
“I am not looking for a ‘Single Bullet’ to solve our financial woes. We need a comprehensive plan that is far-reaching, and closing a single school will not solve our recurring financial shortfalls. Closing a single school in a vacuum without an all-encompassing budget plan is not taking advantage of all options.”
Murfree responded with an email hours later, writing, “If the Board thinks we need to change the date, we can, based on your absence and travel. We do not tend to stop meetings when we have other obligations, personal or professional. On one end I cannot hold up the district as we are trying to have reappointment data available for the upcoming board meeting.
“We have other meetings when all board members are not present. I hate you feel the way you feel and I cannot change your views.”
Ealum was not alone in his ire. A community group called “SaveOurSchool” had sent out an email earlier to announce a rally at 2 p.m. at Magnolia to present a proposal to save the school, but canceled the meeting shortly after Murfree announced the called meeting.
“I find it odd that Magnolia had a rally planned at 2 p.m and that our meeting was announced last week, and Dr. Murfree was aware of the rally last Thursday,” said a member of the group, who wished to remain anonymous. “Then Murfree scheduled a called meeting on the same date at nearly the same time. I guess they were afraid of what we had to say.”
The dustup began at a BOE meeting on April 9 when Bosman informed the Board that “the No. 1 option is to consolidate Magnolia and repurpose the building. Send half the children to Live Oak and the other half to Alice Coachman,” Bosman said. “Or you could rezone some to Lake Park, which itself would then have to be rezoned because it would be over capacity.”
School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman said any possible closure would have to be preceded by two advertised public hearings. Then the Board could vote on the closure.