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Moving Coastal Academy to Bacon saves millions

Current JBE students would attend other schools

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POSTED: September 14, 2012 3:00 p.m.

The Liberty County Board of Education on Tuesday approved a move that has been contemplated for months: discontinuing elementary operations at Jordye Bacon Elementary School and relocating the Coastal Academy and one of the Ombudsman programs to its campus.
Consequently, district schools will be rezoned to accommodate Jordye Bacon students. The zoning has potential to affect students at other schools, though Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers said the district hopes to minimize such effects.
“I’d like to say, we have a lot of teachers and we have a lot of staff here tonight, and I appreciate you coming,” Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley said. “The bottom line is, we have enough students for seven elementary schools, and we’re actually operating eight elementary schools.”

A numbers game

The board could save up to $3.2 million in operations costs for eliminating the school.
After the meeting, Rogers explained the economies of scale that factor into the decision.
“If you looked at minimum class size versus maximum class size and pick the middle of the road, and let’s just say, like, 25 students, if we have a need for 30 first-grade teachers and we actually have 35 first-grade teachers, what we actually could do is reassign those first-grade students to 30 teachers and thereby eliminate those five positions,” Rogers said.  
According to its enrollment numbers, the district will aim to eliminate about 27 teacher positions, which could bring a savings of $1,851,954 in salaries in benefits.  
For the estimated 65 employees at Jordye Bacon Elementary, that message sounds contrary to the board’s assertion that there will not be a reduction in force as a result of the vote.
But Rogers said the district has averaged about 52 open positions each year during the past three years.
“That’s why we think that we would be able to absorb these teachers without an issue,” he said.
Further savings could come from $1.2 million auxiliary personnel costs and benefits, though Rogers said the board will not realize the full amount because it does not plan to lay off any auxiliary employees. For example, some schools may wind up with duplicated positions, such as special-area teachers, once they are rezoned.
Others may retain fulltime employment by working at multiple campuses.
“Being itinerant is nothing new to the district,” he added, explaining that some physical-education teachers already split time between middle and elementary schools.
The district also anticipates saving about $73,000 in water, sewer and custodial costs from operating the current Coastal Academy site at Shipman Avenue and Gause Street.
Other savings could come from reduced utilities at JBE and discontinuation of its food-service operations.

The future of Jordye Bacon

Board Chairwoman Lily Baker emphasized that the campus will remain in use, but will serve a different group of students.
“We, by no means, are not closing Jordye Bacon … we’re going to have to redesign the structure of Jordye Bacon, what it’s going to be used for,” Baker said. “We’re not going to have an empty building sitting here.”
Baker likened the situation to when the board shuttered Hinesville Middle School, and she reiterated that the district will reassign teachers. As for uniforms, Baker asked that schools be forgiving about uniform compliance during the first year under the new structure.
The campus likely will be cordoned into two sections, each with its own entrance, to accommodate the Coastal Academy and the middle-school Ombudsman program.
The Coastal Academy is a special-education school administered by First District Regional Educational Service Agency. It serves about 50-55 students from Liberty, Long and Bryan counties.
The middle-school Ombudsman program is housed in portables at the former board office site. The two high-school locations are not slated to change.
During discussion, board member Becky Carter said it is important to continue honoring the heritage of Jordye Bacon, the district’s first female superintendent.
Conley suggested they retain Bacon’s name as the campus title, which also would allow elementary operations to resume should enrollment spike.  

The human element

After the vote, several people silently left the board office looking defeated.
Board member-elect Carolyn Smith Carter, who retired from JBE and was vocal about the potential closure during her campaign this summer, spoke with some staff members outside of the building.
Though they did not identify themselves or comment for the record, conversation indicated staff members were not pleased.
Smith Carter said the board may see the school as bricks and mortar, but she sees the people involved.
“Convince me where you’re going to have two counselors, a librarian, you know — tell me where those people are going to go. That’s the problem,” Smith Carter said.
State requirements lay blueprints for the number and types of staff members it will fund according to enrollment, so Smith Carter said the only solution she sees would be for the board to use local funds to support the additional staff members.
She’s more hopeful for the effects on parents and students.
“People will get used to rezoning; we’ve rezoned before,” she said. “In my heart, I think parents will be OK.”

 

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