The Liberty County Board of Education adopted reduction-in-force policy revisions that may lay the foundation for a future school closure.
Carolyn Smith Carter, who retired from Jordye Bacon Elementary School in 2007 and who is slated to fill the District 2 board seat in January, said she fears the move might ease the path if the board chooses to close the school.
Though she is not yet on the board, Carter said she plans to conduct a survey to gauge public sentiment on the possible closure and hopes to share the findings before the board decides.
According to a memo from Assistant Superintendent Mary Alexander, the policy change is to coincide with the new code section 20-2-948, which reflects that a local BoE shall not implement a policy that allows length of service to be the primary or determining factor when implementing a reduction in force.
The change stemmed from Senate Bill 184, introduced by Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, which took effect July 1.
“The primary factor to be considered by the superintendent in devising a RIF plan shall be the performance of the educator, one measure of which may be student academic performance, provided, however, that the provision shall not apply if the board of education eliminates an entire program,” the policy says.
Carter said her fear is that the provision about eliminating an entire program could apply if they were to shutter a campus, an issue brought up during the candidate political forum leading up to the July 31 primary election.
The chatter follows a June proposal from Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley that includes the possibility of eliminating Jordye Bacon as an elementary school and increasing the capacity at Button Gwinnett, either through renovation or reconstruction. The idea also includes moving the Coastal Academy and ombudsman programs on separate portions of the campus.
During the discussion, Conley cited low enrollment and master planning findings that call for extensive renovations or reconstruction of two elementary school campuses, Jordye Bacon and Button Gwinnett.
The board has not taken action, but Conley on Tuesday advised members to bring thoughts on the issue to the Aug. 28 work session.
Conley said 750 is the ideal elementary-school enrollment number, and the district elementary enrollment as of the end of the 2011-12 school year would fill 6.8 elementary schools.
The district operates eight elementary schools, though enrollment fell each month from September 2011 until May, according to enrollment reports.
An enrollment count provided Tuesday indicates that BGE had 436 students enrolled Aug. 14, and JBE had 484. The first week indicates that the district has 10,134 students enrolled, slightly up from the end of last year.
In May, BRPH architect Barry Sallas and consultant Fran Pickett identified the need to renovate, reconstruct or move away from the sites of Jordye Bacon and Button Gwinnett elementary schools.
In that presentation, Sallas said that the as the oldest school constructed in 1964, JBE has 40 instructional units and a student capacity of 550.
Sallas also cited the open campus — where classrooms are open to the outdoors rather than interior hallways — as a possible security weakness because people are able to get to classrooms undetected, unlike schools that have a single entrance next to an office.
In the same presentation, Sallas said BGE requires the greatest investment — almost $6 million — to overcome hurdles with noise control, HVAC issues, handicap upgrades and a kitchen.
An anonymous letter sent to the Courier about JBE refutes the claim about the capacity at the school.
“JBE has 36 rooms for home rooms, and if each home room had only 20 students, JBE’s student capacity would
be 720 students,” it said.
It also refutes the notion that the open campus is a security weakness, claiming that each of the exterior doors are locked during school hours so no one can get in undetected.
The letter said it was from someone who works at the school but wants to remain anonymous so the statements could not put his or her career at risk.