Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfee makes a point during a community forum Monday evening at Westover High School.
ALBANY — Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfree says that the community will play a major role in the success of the school system in the coming years.
Speaking at his fourth community forum since taking over the system in June 2010, Murfree urged the crowd gathered at Westover High School’s auditorium to look to the future of education.
“We are in the 21st century and we should act like it,” Murfree said. “We want you to be involved in your children’s education. We want the community to know what’s happening in the Dougherty County School System because we can’t do our jobs without your help.”
Murfree is convinced that a “virtual school” model is the wave of the future and pointed to the online University of Phoenix as an example of where he would like to take the Dougherty system.
A virtual school could also mean more operations dollars for the school system.
“Virtual schools increase enrollment. And increased enrollment means more dollars for the school system,” Murfree said, pointing to homeschoolers as a prime target market. “The University of Phoenix has no classrooms, the students do all their work at home on their computers or on their iPads. IBooks cost $14.95 per download. We are going to have to change our thinking and go outside of the box.
“We need to be thinking 21st century. We are going to go after the homeschooled students because if we don’t, we’ll be left behind.”
Murfree, however, said the virtual schools won’t happen overnight.
“This thing is not going to happen in the next few weeks. It might take three years to develop,” Murfree said. “We have to first to develop the infrastructure to support it.”
Addressing the system’s anticipated $9 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2013, which starts July 1, Murfree admitted that there is little way for the school system to avoid teacher furlough days, which right now stand at 10 days and will save the system and estimated $6 million.
“Ten days is the worst case right now. We really won’t be able to tell until we get budget numbers from the state,” Murfree said. “We’d like to get it down to three days, but right now people are throwing oranges at me. I’d like to get rid of all of them (furlough days), but I can’t promise that.”
Murfree said “everything is on the table” to reduce the shortfall as the system bears down on a June 30 deadline to have its budget to the state.
“Do we consolidate some schools? Notice Dr. Murfree didn’t say close schools, but consolidate schools,” said the superintendent. “I think we need to look first at the Pre-Ks then determine is we really need 16 elementary, six middle and four high schools.
“We need to make sure that all our classrooms are filled; we can’t have 20 students in a class when the state says we can have 30. Then there is always the possibility of a RIF (reduction in force.) We spend $10 million per month and 90 percent of that cost goes toward personnel.”
Murfree also addressed the College and Career Academy the system is currently developing with the assistance of the area business community.
“We want Dougherty County to become a hub in Dr. Barge’s (State School Superintendent John Barge) Career Pathways plan,” Murfree said. “We want to eventually bring in students from Lee, Baker, Mitchell and Terrell County into a College and Career Academy here to help put those kids on career paths.
“We’ve got to stop saying, ‘That’s your problem,’ and start helping each other.”