The time is right to explore the best long term options for the relocation of Albany Early College from the campus of Albany State University. Why now? Because the Dougherty County School Board is considering consolidating and closing schools in communities that desperately need the energy and vitality of a stable neighborhood institution. The relocation of a school with a bustling student enrollment to a facility where growth is stagnant is more prudent.
And for the district, the transition of AEC is a much needed cost saving measure.
To better understand ASU’s position on the issue, a review of AEC’s history on the campus and a recap of recent discussions held with DCSS leaders about its relocation are necessary.
The Albany Early College, operated by Dougherty County School System, began on the campus of Albany State University in 2008. Its creation was a bold, new approach to help middle grade students stay in school, graduate from high school; then transition into college. The location on a college campus served as a catalyst to increase class attendance and boost academic achievement; that pre-teens would experience life on a college campus was an added incentive. The first class of seventh graders clad in green shirts and blouses breathed life into one of ASU’s oldest structures, Andrews Hall. And each year after the inaugural class, more students in higher grade levels filled the building.
Initially, AEC used the first and second floors of the building for 4 years at no charge and ASU paid the utility and security expenses, insurance and related costs. Additional expenses associated with day-to-day wear and tear, also upgrades were incurred.
AEC’s enrollment is growing. Today, the school serves students in grades 7 through 11 with an enrollment of 293. Senior high students will be added next year. A renovation project of the building’s 3rd floor to meet the demand for more classrooms and laboratories was completed in 2012; and for the first time, DCSS chipped in approximately $300,000 to help.
The entire building is now occupied by AEC under a new lease agreement which required a minimum payment of $2,000 a month plus utility costs.
Next year, the first class of seventh graders will graduate. If enrollment projections are an indication of future growth, more students will pack the popular school causing a demand for more space on ASU’s campus; space which we don’t have due to our need to expand and eventually relocate all academic space from the flood plain.
I met with Dougherty County Schools Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely to discuss the space issue. Space is a concern to University System of Georgia administrators right now because all institutions are undergoing an audit of building inventories to comply with a Board of Regents request to prioritize the use of classrooms, labs and staff offices. As is true for higher education institutions around the country, lower state tax revenues, fewer federal funds and sequestration is forcing all of us to reshuffle resources and do the best we can to accomplish our objective of educating students for the global workforce.
The early college programs hosted at state colleges such as Georgia Southwestern University and Valdosta State University have already relocated off the campuses based on some of the same space pressures that ASU faces today.
Another meeting with DCSS’s Executive Director of Finance and Operations Ken Dyer and ASU Vice President for Fiscal Affairs Larry Wakefield focused on the district’s arrears lease payments.
A tentative lease agreement reached with Dyer allows AEC to remain in Andrews Hall at no charge from April 1-June 30. I believe the financial settlement is more than fair and should be approved by school board members as part of the DCSS consolidation plan.
Instead of disrupting the socio-economic stability of a neighborhood, AEC’s transition into one of the properties scheduled to close is the best use of taxpayers’ dollars. It addresses both ASU and DCSS space needs and ensures that voices of the citizens of historic East Albany neighborhoods are heard in their desire to keep educational options available in their portion of the city.
ASU remains committed to collaborating with DCSS to improve high school completion and expand college access for students in the Dougherty County Schools as it has done since its inception in 1903.
Dr. Everette J. Freeman is president of Albany State University.