School board votes not to delay magnet school opening

Anticipated budget shortfall raises questions



Although acceptance letters have yet to be mailed to students and teachers still haven’t been hired for Augusta’s new magnet school, the Richmond County Board of Education said it will open on time in August.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to remove the option of delaying the opening of the Richmond County Career Technical Magnet School as administrators finalize the cash-strapped 2012-13 budget.

However, school board member Jimmy Atkins said central office administrators recently told him the opening could be postponed because of a budget shortfall and the costs of running utilities, transportation and personnel at a new building.

Atkins said he initiated the discussion because families are not being given answers about the school’s status.

“We are three days away from the end of our school year, and we have eighth-graders that are going home on Friday who have no idea where they’ll be in high school next year,” he said, adding students were supposed to receive acceptance letters May 8.

“I do know the administration was looking at possibly delaying opening it.”

The $22 million school is being built with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars.

It will have six career tracks with a technical focus, offering courses such as collision repair and culinary arts. The school will open with a ninth-grade class of about 160 students who applied from across the district. It will add a grade every year.

If the school officially opens in August, students still might have to be housed at Lamar Milledge Elementary while the building on Augusta Technical College’s campus is completed.

Facilities director Benton Starks said his department won’t know until June if the building, initially projected to be completed in August, will be ready for students.

Board member Jack Padgett said the community has counted on opening this school since the idea was presented 10 years ago and that the district shouldn’t let anyone down.

“This is where the country needs to be going as far as students going out and having a livelihood,” Padgett said of the school’s technical focus.

Superintendent Frank Roberson said any decision about the school depends on the money the district has available. The system is facing at least $23 million in state funding cuts.

“Anything that we do is going to be contingent upon the resources that we’re going to have to us,” he said. “We’re in the 11th hour of working with our budget.”



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