ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County School Board on Wednesday set dates of Monday and Feb. 7 for public hearings to discuss the closure of two of the system's schools and the repurposing of a third school.
Both hearings will be held in the Dougherty School System Board Room in the administration building at Pine Avenue and Washington Street. The Monday hearing starts at 5 p.m., while the Feb. 7 hearing will be at noon.
Earlier Wednesday, the School Board heard a recommendation by school consultant Eric Bosman of Kimley-Horn and Associates of Atlanta that Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle schools be closed and Magnolia Elementary be repurposed into a center that houses four programs.
School System Executive Director of Finance and Operations Ken Dyer told the board the closures were necessary because of falling enrollment and steep losses in revenue.
"Dougherty County's schools have lost 1,282 students over the past eight years and we project enrollment losses of 136 students annually through 2015," Dyer said. "We've also had a decline in local revenue of more than $3 million from 2008 to 2012, more than $10 million in state revenue and more than $14 million in general fund revenue over the same period.
"From 2003 to 2013, we've had austerity cuts of more than $70 million."
Dyer said that the closures and repurposing would result in a more efficient use of building space and save the system's general fund nearly $2 million per year, while resulting in approximately $11 million in SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) savings.
Last August, the system began a systemwide analysis of enrollment and occupancy. The investigation included a room-by-room physical assessment to identify under-used space within every building.
The October 2012 FTE (full-time enrollment) report of a student population of 15,612 prompted the study, which led to an analysis of all schools below the recommended 90-95 percent capacity.
Eight of 16 elementary schools and five of six middle schools fell below 85 percent capacity.
"The county's elementary schools are running at 87 percent capacity, which on the surface doesn't sound that bad," Bosman said. "But systemwide, that translates into more than 1,200 empty seats. Sylvester Road is the smallest school in the system and is running at 108 percent capacity. That's too many kids for a school that small and is unsafe."
Bosman said the Sylvester Road students could be moved to Radium Springs, Turner and Jackson Heights elementary.
Dougherty Middle is running at 67 percent capacity and many of its students would be moved to Radium Springs Middle if it were closed.
Magnolia's students would be moved to Alice Coachman and Live Oak, with four programs -- Oak Tree Psychoeducational Center, the county's Pre-K program, the county's ESP (Exceptional Students Program) and Elementary Performance Learning Center -- moving to Magnolia.
"No one wants to lose an anchor school within their neighborhood," Bosman said. "But we didn't just pick one school out of thin air."