Group to focus on rightsizing Richmond County schools

A focus group will have its first meeting Tuesday to discuss plans for rightsizing schools in Richmond County, which could result in closures, merges or consolidations.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Carol Rountree said the group of roughly 30 citizens will hear the history of rightsizing in the county and the needs going forward of the school system.

“When they finish (Tuesday night), they should have agreed to some criteria to look for any mergers or reductions of buildings,” Rountree said.

The school system has lost roughly 2,500 students over the last decade as families moved from urban to rural areas. At the same time, millions of dollars have been invested in renovating schools and the construction of new buildings, leaving some schools under utilized.

School officials and community members first met in 2008 to establish criteria to rightsize schools and properly use the facilities. Board attorney Pete Fletcher said at that time, the group members decided they’d like to see smaller enrollments and “community schools.”

Since then, the state department of education has given waivers to increase class sizes as a budget crisis has underfunded school districts. With larger capacities, now some schools are underenrolled.

In September, the Richmond County Board of Education authorized an education consultant to begin gathering data on enrollment projections and building usage to launch the process again.

Superintendent Frank Roberson also included the plan to rightsize some schools as a cost-saving measure in the 2014-15 projected budget.

Fletcher said the focus group, made up of school officials, school volunteers and community members, will set criteria on how to handle long-term and short-term changes. Tuesday’s meeting may not have time set aside for public input but additional community meetings will be held in the future for feedback.

According to a timeline given to the board in September, a rightsizing plan will be presented to the public at community meetings in January after staff reviews scenarios and recommendations from its consultant.

IF YOU GO

What: Focus group meeting on school rightsizing

When: Tuesday 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: Richmond County Board of Education board room; 864 Broad St.

Input: The focus group may not take input from the public Tuesday but will hold community meetings for feedback early next year

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