Unless something unexpected comes up, the Dougherty County Board of Education will decide today whether to close two schools and revamp a third in reaction to dwindling student population and tighter spending.
The issue has been a controversial one in Dougherty County, primarily because the two schools recommended for closure — Sylvester Road Elementary and Dougherty Middle — are located east of the Flint River. The third school, Magnolia Elementary, would be repurposed to house four different programs that are now located in different buildings.
Passion over the proposed closings is understandable. As those who oppose these particular schools closing have said, a school is a focal point for a neighborhood in a community. The loss of a school can have an effect on the neighborhood’s identity.
That, however, has to be weighed against reality, which can be harsh. Declining student population means that facilities are being under-used. The system is losing 138 students per school year. Dougherty County, in its elementary and middle schools, has 2,400 empty seats.
Consolidating student populations into fewer schools means more funding can be moved from expenditures such as maintenance and repair of unneeded space and focused on educating students in a more efficient way. By closing the two schools recommended by consultants and repurposing Magnolia, Dougherty would take 1,700 of those empty seats off the ledger.
With fewer and fewer dollars to spend, the School Board is negligent if it does not get the best value it possibly can from the money provided by taxpayers for the education of Dougherty’s students.
Making a forward-looking decision on this issue will take political courage, and it’s doubtful that all of the School Board members will exhibit it. Status quo is safer and easier, but it isn’t in the students’ best interests. The funding, student population and spending trends will simply continue until the School Board is forced to act.
Putting it off won’t help, as there will be a great deal of work completed quickly in regard to attendance zones, preparation and transportation planning — along with communication with families — once a decision to reduce the number of schools is reached. Each tick of the clock will make that more difficult to develop and implement before the 2013-14 school year starts in August.
School Board members know what needs to be done. All that’s left is to do it.