ALBANY, Ga. -- A word of advice to those planning to attend today's Dougherty County School Board work session -- pack a lunch.
The Board is scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. at Albany Middle School and will face a full agenda ranging from a final vote on possible school closures, appointing tribunals to conduct disciplinary and non-renewal hearings and a proposed payment plan to the Albany Water, Gas and Light Commission for E-rate funding.
The proposed closings of Sylvester Road. Elementary and Dougherty Middle Schools and the repurposing of Magnolia Elementary have been discussed at three public hearings over the past three months.
The closures have been vigorously opposed by East Albany residents who say shuttering two schools located within a mile of each other would devastate the community and unfairly place the burden of the district's dwindling enrollment numbers squarely on them.
Consultant Eric Bosman of Kimley-Horn and Associates of Atlanta says the district is losing an average of 138 students per year as enrollment declines. This translates into 2,400 empty classroom seats split evenly between 16 elementary and six middle schools. According to Bosman, closing Sylvester Road and DCMS and repurposing Magnolia into an educational center would reduce the number of empty elementary seats to 200 and middle school seats to 500.
Another thing to watch is board approval of the appointing of disciplinary tribunals. The panels would hold individual hearings in what is expected to be a rash of appeals after the Georgia Professional Standards commission hands down certification suspension or revocation decisions in the wake of the DCSS's 2009 CRCT cheating scandal.
"With the sheer number of cases we anticipate coming up in the next month or so (PSC cases and non-renewals) I do not think the board is logistically capable of handling all of the cases." DCSS attorney Tommy Coleman said Tuesday. "They won't have to time to devote to all the cases, and these tribunals are the logical way to deal with the load."
The board will also discuss, and possibly vote on, paying Albany Water, Gas and Light more than $400,00 it owes the utility for federal E-rate payments which were halted last year after the District's Title I expenditure problems came to light.
Federal E-rate money is used to pay for wireless Internet networking and other technology related expenses.
WG&L Finance Director John Vansant confirmed recently that the utility has been carrying the school system's e-rate debt while the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) and school officials try to resolve their issues.
"We're trying to work with USAC and the school system on a very friendly basis," Vansant said. "There has been some sort of glitch, and USAC has concerns. I believe they got wind of media reports about the school lunch program, and the e-card funding got tied up with the federal money that goes to the school system.
"The system is on review, but I'm 90 percent certain everything will be worked out"
Vansant confirmed reports that the school system is behind in e-rate payments by around $400,000. He said WG&L is not working under any predetermined time frame to get the funding.
"Right off the top of my head, that number sounds pretty close to right on it," he said. "We're not working on any kind of hard and fast schedule right now, but we would like for this matter to be settled as soon as possible.
"If they're not able to work things out, though, we expect the school system to pay WG&L the full amount they owe."
Sources say the District would like to work out a payment plan of $60,000 per month until the situation is resolved.