A consultant will begin gathering data on enrollment projections and building use to launch the process of consolidating schools in Richmond County.
The Richmond County Board of Education authorized the move at its fall retreat Friday so a plan for action can be put in place by February.
Over the past 15 years, families have moved from urban to rural areas of the county, leading to the loss of roughly 2,500 students, according to board attorney Pete Fletcher.
At the same time, construction projects have increased space at many schools, leaving some buildings and classrooms underutilized.
The plan to rightsize some schools is included as a cost-saving measure in the 2014-15 projected budget that Superintendent Frank Roberson is preparing to publish in February.
The board directed Roberson to compile a picture of next year’s financial situation early to allow more time for adjustments. This year the board complained about being presented with the 2013-14 budget just weeks before it had to be submitted to the state in June.
The baseline for next year is the current 2013-14 $234 million budget with a $23 million shortfall in funding.
Departments will begin suggesting feasible cuts, and consolidations will be factored into the budget after the board conducts a review and gets community input.
Fletcher did not estimate how many or which schools might close, consolidate or merge. However some pointed to Collins Elementary School because it services much of Cherry Tree Crossing public housing, which is set to be demolished in the summer.
“We have the potential of that school over there being practically empty,” said Board President Venus Cain.
By November, a consultant from Philadelphia-based Advanced Technology Consultants will suggest which schools can be consolidated, merged or closed. Any of those scenarios could result in boundary changes for zones, changes in which middle schools feed to various high schools and grade changes at some schools.
The plan will be presented to the board in January and public meetings will be held for feedback.
“We want the community to have some input into the process and the criteria,” Fletcher said. “As much as we can, it’s a community-wide effort.”