Former Albany City Commissioner Henry Mathis speaks before the Dougherty County School Board during a public hearing Thursday where he urged the board not to vote for the closures of Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle schools.
ALBANY, Ga. — The Dougherty County School Board held a second public hearing Thursday to discuss the possible closures of Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle schools and the repurposing of Magnolia Elementary.
More than 50 people attended the hearing, which was held in the city-county commission chambers. Eight people voiced their concerns about the proposed closures.
At the end of the meeting, Board Chairwoman Carol Tharin announced that a “public information session” would be held on Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the commission chambers for further discussion of the matter.
At Thursday’s hearing, former Albany City Commissioner Henry Mathis accused the board of moving too quickly to close the two eastside schools.
“I have always been told that to get through a process, there should be a process. We have not gotten that from this school board,” Mathis said. “We only found out about this three weeks ago, and you could vote on it next week. The bottom line is that you have left us out of the loop.”
Former Albany State University football coach and eastside resident Hamp Smith offered a simple solution to the possible closures.
“We’ve got more than 400 kids on the eastside who are not in school,” Smith said. “If you could get those kids into school then we wouldn’t have a capacity problem.”
“Everybody is talking about how much money we can save by closing schools, but nobody is talking about spending it on our kids,” said Shirley Jordan. “If those schools are closed, it will hurt our community. Dougherty County and the eastside is falling down every day.”
Ward I City Commissioner Jon Howard, whose district includes Sylvester Road and Dougherty Middle, agreed.
“We take pride in our community, neighborhoods and schools,” Howard said. “The first I heard of this proposal, I was petrified. I thought ‘they are moving too fast.’”
Louise Don, a volunteer and advocate for Magnolia, said the decision facing the board is an important one.
“The Dougherty County School System is at a fork in the road,” Don said. “We now have a new School Board, but one of the problems in the past is that people don’t trust the board.”
Earlier in the meeting, Executive Director of Finance and Operations Ken Dyer attempted to assure the crowd, saying, “People will not lose their jobs as a result of this plan.”
Dyer said the system currently has enough openings to absorb the administrators and teachers of both Sylvester Road and Dougherty Middle.
Board member James Bush said he appreciated the public’s input over the two hearings.
“The people expressed a lot of different concerns and posed many questions,” Bush said. “We probably should have involved the public much earlier. Now we must digest this information and decide what to do.
“I will, however, ask Mr. Dyer to furnish the board with a financial outlook if we decide to do nothing at all.”