Dougherty County School Board members, from left, Velvet Riggins, Lane Price and Robert Youngblood, look over proposed school zone changes with consultants Monday night at a called meeting of the BOE.
ALBANY, Ga. — Albany State University President Everette Freeman faced some pointed questions from Dougherty County School Board members during a called meeting Monday to discuss the future of Albany Early College on the ASU campus.
At the core of the dustup is a five-year contract signed in November by ASU and DCSS and the $350,000-plus in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) money for renovations to two floors of Andrews Hall, which currently houses the early college.
According to DCSS officials, the district is spending approximately $140,000 per year on the current lease, utility and maintenance costs.
“I want to make clear that we want to continue the cooperation between Albany State University and the Dougherty County School System,” Freeman said. “All the members of the ASU family want to work together to resolve this issue.”
The Albany Early College has been on the ASU campus for the nearly five years. It currently houses 360 students in grades 6 through 11.
Freeman, pointing to the University System of Georgia as the source of the impasse, has asked DCSS interim superintendent Butch Mosely to vacate the building.
“I was asked by the Board of Regents if the Albany Early College was ever approved by them to be on campus,” Freeman said. “I said we never sought to get written permission. At the same time we have a space utilization study coming up ... and we need the space.
“Yes, we have a contract, it was constructed like you’d be with us for the next three years. It is my hope that we could have worked this out quietly for the betterment of all the children of Dougherty County. Your interests and our interests are the same.”
Board member James Bush said he was conflicted, but had a duty to the taxpayers.
“I’m an ASU man,” Bush said. “I want to work this out to with the the college. Over the past year we have been forced to pay back money after money to the state, and I have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Dougherty County.”
BOE member Darrel Ealum then spoke up.
“Are you aware that we have just put more than $350,000 into that building?” Ealum asked Freeman. “How will the public feel about us just walking away from a nearly half-million investment?”
“I’m not sure about your numbers,” Freeman replied. “but I am aware you have put in a substantial amount of money into the building. However, if we went back and looked at our investments into the Early College program I’d say we have invested more than you. So I’d consider that a wash.
“The world has changed on us. That is the reality.”
Both sides seem to be firming up their positions.
Board member Robert Youngblood asked if the DCSS could recoup the SPLOST funds involved in a lease.
“I don’t know the answer to that question. Was it (the renovations using SPLOST funds) a gift? Is that legal?” Youngblood said. “ We need the answer to these questions.”
Freeman said “588 taxpayers at ASU also have skin in this game,” then he appeared to draw a line in the sand.
“The Board of Regents would not allow us to repay state funds without a written agreement,” he said. “I think the community would understand.”
In the second half of Monday night’s meeting the School Board also discussed final tweaks to the recommendation of closing Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle School and the repurposing of Magnolia Elementary.
The final decision is expected to be made at the Board’s regular mid-monthly meeting scheduled for March 27 at 11:30 a.m. at Albany Middle School.
School consultant Eric Bosman said the proposal would reduce the county’s surplus of 1,200 empty elementary seats to 200 and 1,200 empty middle school seats to 500.
Sylvester Road and Dougherty Middle are in Ealum’s eastside district and he made one final plea to the board.
“I am begging you to delay closing Sylvester Road, don’t put it on the table right now,” Ealum said. “I’ve given up hope on saving Dougherty Middle and I know we have to close some schools. But if you close two schools less than a mile from the other you will also close down that entire community.”