Last week about 35 people showed up for the continuing school reconfiguration talks at a James A. Shanks Middle School meeting.
Superintendent Roger Milton stated, as he has in earlier meetings, that these discussions about his plans for the district had not become a reality at this point.
He wants to put more emphasis on early learning programs and bring 3rd-graders’ reading at below grade level up. Currently, district wide, only about 33 percent of 3rd-graders are at grade level.
“There is a need to reduce the number of facilities in the district and maximize our facilities’ use,” Milton said about his plan.
Milton said that it was not a very comfortable conversation to have about closing any schools.
At all of the meetings Milton has stated that several schools were not operating at capacity and that is why he and his staff developed plans to close and combine several schools, which will reduce overall costs of operating schools for improved efficiency.
“We have to turn this ship around,” he added.
Currently Shanks is operating at 48 percent capacity. Milton’s proposal includes making Shanks a 4th- through 8th-grade middle school. This will be accomplished by moving St. Johns Elementary’s 4th- and 5th-grades to Shanks and grades Pre-K through 3rd to George Munroe.
Resident Bill Stinson, whose children attended Gadsden public schools, asked that the district look at moving toward a Pre-K through 8th-grade and 9th- through 12th-grade configuration.
Stinson stated that the longer students stay in Gadsden’s schools the further they are from being at grade level; “not a good sign,” he added.
Resident and educator Eliza Key spoke about school choices and the impact they will have on the student population.
Key had an issue as well with educators who work in the school district whose children go to other districts.
He asked the board to find out what has made them upset with the system and why they moved their children.
Quincy Mayor Derrick Elias stated the he understood that something had to be done.
Elias said that “as goes the school district so goes the City of Quincy.”
He proposed several changes to Milton’s plan.
Basically he recommended closing Carter-Parramore Academy and moving other schools: Chattahoochee Elementary move to Gretna, GEMS to Havana Magnet, leave Greensboro Elementary alone, Gretna Elementary receive Chattahoochee Elementary, move St. Johns students to Stewart Street, make Shanks a 6-12 school, and sell East Gadsden High School.
He speculated that they could sell it to Pat Thomas Academy and leave Greensboro Elementary alone.
Board members Isaac Simmons and Charlie Frost spoke again about their opposition to the proposed plan and both stated they would not support the plan as presented.
Board member Tyrone Smith thanked the participants for their involvement in the meetings. He said the school board was reaching a situation where it was having more money going out than coming in.
“We are addressing this from many ways, including encouraging more parental involvement in the schools,” he said.
Board member Audrey Lewis stated she had learned a lot during the previous meetings and had questions that she would like answered as well. “This problem that we have right now didn’t just start,” she stated.
She spoke about not being able to provide some of the classes that students need and was pleased that they had a leader that was willing to put it on the table for discussion.
“We need to do something and we need to do it now,” she said. “We need your support. Let’s come together as a county and work this out.”
Board member Steve Scott noted Milton had solicited ideas from all of the board about his proposal.
“It is not a plan that has been thrown together,” Scott said. “Nobody wants to close a community school.”
He said the community does not see the entire district’s budget reports. “It is easy to say that it is too much for 80-85 percent of the budget to be payroll,” he said, and added that it was hard to find qualified teachers.
“For the first time in 10 years we gave a raise and it hardly moved us in the state teachers’ pay rankings,” he added.
There will be a video on the Herald website, havanaherald.net, of this meeting and Monday night’s meeting.