Magnolia Elementary School supporter Lee Don speaks before the Dougherty County School Board Thursday as Board members Carol Tharin and Milton “June Bug” Griffin listen. The Board held a special called meeting to get public input into the possible closure of Magnolia.
ALBANY — Dougherty County School System Executive Director of Finance and Operations Robert Lloyd said Thursday that the system could save $950,000 per year and $8.5 million in SPLOST money if the Board of Education decided to ‘repurpose’ Magnolia Elementary School.
“We took a look at the numbers and the option that kept coming back to us was repurposing Magnolia,” Lloyd said during a special called BOE meeting Thursday. “This is no reflection on the staff at Magnolia, this is pure economics.”
Lloyd said the system, which is facing declining local tax revenues and state austerity cuts, could save money by moving students from Oak Tree Psychoeducational Center and the county’s Pre-K program from the old Sylvandale School to Magnolia.
The DCSS would then move half of Magnolia’s students to Alice Coachman and the other half to M.L. King. Sylvandale would then probably be closed. Over the past eight years, the school system has lost $60 million to state austerity cuts, Lloyd said.
“There is still renovation work to be done at Magnolia, but it wouldn’t be anywhere close to $8.5 million. We could apply those savings to the general fund,” Lloyd said.
As for Magnolia’s teachers, Lloyd said they “would follow the student,” and there would be other K-5 teaching positions available for them to apply to within the system
Several concerned citizens spoke on behalf of keeping the school open.
“My pot doesn’t get stirred very often, but if you talk about kids, the education of kids, the loving and caring of kids, then my pot gets stirred,” Magnolia supporter Lee Don said. “I think we need a local study to come up with a five-year plan to solve our problems in Dougherty County. Let’s see what we can do budget-wise.
“Please save Magnolia School.”
Joyce Polite-Davis also expressed concern about a possible closure.
“Magnolia is a school Dougherty County needs,” she said. “It’s a school other schools should pattern themselves after.”
Board member Anita Williams-Brown urged the crowd to be patient.
“I really have mixed emotions with this decision,” Williams-Brown said. “Everybody is doing a wonderful job at Magnolia, and I understand both sides of this issue. We are trying to decide what’s best for the students.
“I’ve been right there with you in the closing of schools before. I’m asking that you give us an opportunity to make some decisions. We have heard you.”
Board Chairman James Bush was a bit more blunt that his colleague.
“We have too many schools and not enough students, and we don’t have they money,” Bush said. “But we have to be fair about it.”
Board member Carol Tharin agreed with the chairman.
“Unlike the federal government, we cannot operate with a deficit,” she said. “These are tough decisions we are facing. No one wants to to see their neighborhood school go away. We aren’t taking this lightly.”
Tharin then asked DCSS attorney Tommy Coleman what is involved in closing a school.
Coleman answered that two advertised public hearings were necessary before the Board could vote on closure.
Should the BOE later approve of closure, any member of the community could file a petition keeping the school open for the next 30 days. The process would then involve gathering the signatures of 25 percent the county’s registered voters and could eventually be decided by a ballot referendum.
“All in all there are no easy answers,” local activist William Wright said. “The crux of the problem is financial, but if we close a school this year, what school will it be next year?