The Richmond County Board of Education will decide whether to approve various school closure and merger proposals at a called meeting Tuesday.
The scenarios, pitched as a way to save money during a budget crisis while also boosting academic offerings, sparked major concerns from the public during four town hall meetings.
Last fall, the board launched the “rightsizing” process to allow education consultants to analyze county and school population data, birth rates and building use.
In January, consultant Bill Montgomery proposed the following scenarios to address under-enrollments and overcrowding at certain buildings and to prepare for projected enrollment shifts:
Close Collins K-8 School; close Murphey Middle and reconfigure T.W. Josey High into a 6-12 school; close Sego Middle and reconfigure Butler High into a 6-12 school; relocate Rollins Elementary to the Sego building; consolidate National Hills and Garrett elementary schools by closing National Hills; build a new K-8 school for west Augusta; and add a sixth grade to A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School.
Board member Frank Dolan said the changes are necessary to make best use of the facilities with less money while enrollments are shifting across the district. He said that some changes might be emotional for communities, but that there are few alternatives.
“Something has to be done,” Dolan said. “I’m just taking a pragmatic look at these buildings and locations and listening to these people who know what they’re talking about.”
At the town hall meetings held at Josey and Butler, parents overwhelmingly opposed the 6-12 configuration, fearing violence and teen pregnancy could result from blending sixth-graders with students as old as 20.
As a retired teacher, board member Barbara Pulliam said she can’t picture herself approving the scenarios as a whole.
Even though the district proposed using previously allocated capital projects funds to construct secluded middle school “wings” on the high schools, Pulliam said there are still issues with the 6-12 model.
She also said she has concerns about closing Collins, which has a rich history and is a central part of the community.
“I’m thinking about it all the way around,” Pulliam said. “I’m thinking about it from the parents’ view. I know what they got to do for economic purposes, but I still have questions.”