Consultant Eric Bosman of Kimley-Horn and Associates in Atlanta presents options on possible school closures and consolidations during Thursday night’s public information session at the government center.
ALBANY, Ga. — The Dougherty County School Board held a public information session Thursday night to hear options and alternatives to closing two schools on the eastside and repurposing of a third westside school.
The current proposal before the Board is to close Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle School and repurpose Magnolia Elementary into the district’s educational center.
“We looked at more one-half of the district’s elementary schools and still recommend the proposal that is before the board,” consultant and plan originator Eric Bosman said at the outset of the meeting. “Right now it is the best option available financially and facility-wise for the Dougherty County School System.
At the root of the problem is a school system facing declining revenues and enrollment. Current capacity at the district’s 16 elementary schools is running with 1,206 empty seats. There are 1,267 empty seats in the system’s six middle schools — 2,473 vacant chairs in a 15,000-plus student system.
“One new option is to leave the middle schools alone for now, but that would still leave 1,200 empty seats, and with enrollment projected to drop by 138 students per year over the next five years, that problem will have to be addressed eventually,” Bosman said.
Another possibility was the closing of Southside Middle School, which drew attention after Albany Tech President Anthony Parker said Thursday the college would like to acquire the building and property “if it became available.”
Bosman said that would work under two conditions:
- Take the proceeds from the Southside sale and build a new middle school in the Southside zone, or,
- Rezone Southside to Robert Cross and build a new magnet school in the middle of Albany.
That prompted remarks from several board members.
“I don’t think we should be making a decision on closing Southside based on a possibility,” Board Chair Carol Tharin said.
Board member Darrel Ealum was even more pointed with his thoughts.
“I don’t understand how we can close and sell Southside, then build a new middle school,” Ealum said. “We have three middle schools on the eastside because of decisions made in the past and that is what we need to deal with now.”
As the two and one-half hour meeting closed, board members expressed their opinions.
“I understand the importance of neighborhood schools and keeping kids together,” said Robert Youngblood. “What is scary to me is we are losing $3 million a year and if we don’t make some adjustments, if we do nothing at all, we’ll wind up having to let people go and just cause problems for another board four years from now.
“We have to do our jobs now.”
Velvet Riggins asked the crowd and her colleagues, “ if this was your household budget with money going out and nothing coming in, what would you do?”
Lane Price said changes were unavoidable
“It’s going to hurt to make some changes, If we don’t we will be short-changing our children. We have the opportunity to do something now and only then will we be able to improve our county and our city.”
Ealum, whose district includes Sylvester Road and Dougherty Middle, was blunt with his concerns.
“I understand we have to do something, but we are talking about closing two schools less than a mile from the other,” he said. “This will begin the degradation of an entire neighborhood. I don’t feel it’s fair that the eastside will bear the brunt while the whole county should share the burden.”
Milton “June Bug” Griffin said “I don’t see us putting this off any longer. Somebody is going to get their feelings hurt. Let’s do this.”
Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely then closed the meeting some parting words to the Board.
“I don’t know the politics of this community. I take things from a business point of view,” he said. “But somebody is going to give up something, and you are going to be the ones who have to make that tough decision.”
Mosely said he will not place a final vote on the Board’s Feb. 27 regular meeting agenda, but could not give a date for when the closure vote would take place.