Dougherty County School Board members, from left, James Bush, Milton “June Bug” Griffin, Darrell Ealum and Board Chair Carol Tharin cast their votes on Monday to close Sylvester Road Elementary, Dougherty Middle School, and to repurpose Magnolia Elementary School. The Board voted 5-2 to approve the proposed closings, with Ealum and Velvet Riggins voting “No.”
ALBANY, Ga. — After months of sometimes contentious debate and three open meetings, the Dougherty County School Board voted 5-2 on Monday to close Sylvester Road Elementary, Dougherty Middle School and repurpose Magnolia Elementary.
The closures were opposed by East Albany residents who say shuttering two schools located within a mile of each other will devastate the community and unfairly place the burden of the district's dwindling enrollment numbers squarely on them.
District 6 member Darrel Ealum, who represents the districts in which Sylvester Road and DCMS are located, and Velvet Riggins voted against the closures.
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.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, Sylvester Road's 426 students will be split between Turner and Radium Springs elementary schools, and 200 students will move from Turner to Jackson Heights.
"I am bitterly disappointed in this decision," Ealum said. "What I don't understand is that Sylvester Road is running at 108 percent capacity, and after we move those kids to Turner, that school will be running at 111 percent capacity. It makes no sense to me."
Riggins said she understood the necessity of closing some school but wished the Board had waited.
"I thought we should have held on to Sylvester Road for at least another year," Riggins said. "I'm not sure if closing those schools was unfair to East Albany, but it does bother me both were in the same area."
Board Chair Carol Tharin said she felt the BOE did its due diligence in reaching a difficult decision.
"We had lengthy discussions over a long period of time," she said. "We discussed every possible solution and it always came back to this proposal."
Board member James Bush agreed.
"We heard from all interested parties and had good input," Bush said. "We wanted to come up with a plan that would be beneficial to all of our young people. We just had too many empty seats.
"This decision was driven by three important factors: decreasing enrollment, we don't have any money, and we have too many schools."
Magnolia Elementary will be repurposed into the district's education center and would house four separate programs — Pre-K, Gifted, the Oak Tree Center and Alternative Education.
Magnolia's 447 students will be split between Live Oak and Alice Coachman Elementary.
Dougherty Middle's 466 students will be reassigned to Radium Middle and Albany Middle schools.
DCSS officials say the closings and repurposing will save the system nearly $2 million per year and $11 million in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) money which can be used for capital improvements at other schools.