Facilities planning timeline
To respond to elementary school facility needs by the 2013-14 school year, the Liberty BoE must meet the following deadlines:
• Sept. 11: Where Coastal Academy will be placed, which could impact other elementary schools and whether rezoning will be required
• Nov. 13: If rezoning is required, a proposal must be submitted to the board
• Dec. 11: Finalize rezoning
• Spring 2013: Approve updated facility plan
The Liberty County Board of Education last week approved an elementary-school enrollment capacity of 750 students that will guide its future capital projects and could lead to closing a grade school.
The Aug. 28 vote was the sole action taken in an ongoing discussion about the futures of several schools, but it laid the foundation for closing one elementary school.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley presented an overview of school enrollments, state facilities guidelines for school capacities and where each school stands on the requirements.
“There’s a lot of pieces we have to look at,” Conley said. “We’re going to look at enrollment. We’re going to look at facility plans. We’re going to look at our elementary master planning, … so when you look at all of this and whether or not we can earn our teachers, earn our administrators, earn all of our instructional units … all of that is what we’re going to have to look at so that we can make a decision regarding where we need to go for next year. ... We’ve got to move so that we can get everything done for August of 2013.”
Local enrollment versus state standards
Determining enrollment capacity is more complex than the number of classrooms on campus. State requirements mandate that an elementary school with capacity for 750 full-time students has 32 kindergarten through third-grade classrooms at least 750 square feet and 12 fourth- and fifth-grade rooms at a minimum of 660 square feet, Conley said. There also are size requirements for media centers, physical education facilities and cafeterias.
Conley said the full-time equivalent of 750 would allow the district to maximize its administrative staff, energy costs and funding.
“It is not my intent to bring all elementary schools up to 750 FTEs, especially with our current enrollment, but to establish the standard, which will drive any remodeling or renovating,” Conley wrote in a memo to the board.
Current enrollment numbers indicate that the district operates more instructional units than it needs — with 299 at 750 square feet and three at 660 square feet —but only requires 144 750-square-foot instructional units and 50 660-square-foot instructional units.
Board member Carol Guyett asked whether it’s possible to leave campuses unaltered and maintain the current facilities.
“Once you touch it, you’ve got to bring it all up to code and all up to speed,” Conley said.
“So if we do any renovation, or just in that area?” Guyett asked.
BRPH Archtects+Engineers architect Barry Sallas explained that once the board crosses a spending threshold that’s roughly half the school’s value, it would be required to look at the entire school.
Board member Becky Carter asked whether other counties are setting similar standards.
“Typically, each county will set a size that they’re comfortable with for an elementary, middle and high school. A lot of it depends on population, how much land area they cover, transportation costs. …,” Sallas said. “You want to make sure when you build or renovate a school that your core facilities are set for that maximum.”
Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones asked if 750 full-time equivalent is standard for the state.
Sallas offered examples of current standards. The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System is building a school with 640 FTE capacity but with core facilities to accommodate up to 900, while Gwinnett and Fulton counties both use 900 FTE as their standard.
Timeline for action
The board must work on a tight timeline to ensure facilities are in order by August 2013 — and the next step is deciding where the Coastal Academy will be located, Conley said.
The board agreed in June that the special-education school — which operates under supervision of First District Regional Education Services Agency and serves about 60 students from Liberty, Long and Bryan counties — needs to be relocated from its Gause Street location that once was Hineshaw Elementary.
One pending proposal is discontinuing elementary school at Jordye Bacon Elementary and moving the Coastal Academy and Ombudsman programs to its campus. Under the plan, JBE students would be absorbed into other schools, including Button Gwinnett Elementary, which may either be renovated or reconstructed.
During the Aug. 28 work session, neither Conley nor the board gave indication about where the Coastal Academy may go, but Conley said the decision on the special-education school may require some rezoning as a result.
These decisions will feed into a spring 2013 update of the five-year facilities plan and an immediate staffing assessment.
“Immediately, we need to look at our number of staff members county-wide. As people leave and as people retire, we don’t need to be hiring additional staff,” Conley said. “We have too many staff members right now for the number of students that we have.”
The district loses money for classes significantly below capacity — where a teacher should have at least 20 students but only has 15, Conley said.
“We’re losing $477,000 based on our current enrollment in middle school only because we’re not at minimums,” Conley said.
She acknowledged that middle- and high-school standards will be set in coming months as well.
Parent: Coastal Academy needs are more immediate
Long County resident Joanne Williams attended the meeting and tried to weigh in during discussion of the Coastal Academy.
She has a son enrolled there and said she would like to see less emphasis on the other schools and more on the alternative school.
“I’m just really concerned … they seem like the most vulnerable part of the population, and yet their needs and requirements are the lowest on the totem pole,” Williams said.
Williams, who attended the work session, said she is disappointed that the school will remain in its current facility through this school year.
Williams also said she does not support the proposal to relocate the special-education school to the JBE campus.
“My oldest son is 39 years old, and he attended Bacon Primary when he was a little boy ... it seems discriminating that the only facility that the children with disabilities qualify for is the oldest facility.
“As long as nobody’s bringing any attention to this school, this school is not going to get any help and these children are not going to get any help,” she said. “In these children’s lives, every year is precious. … Before you know it, they’re grown and they don’t know anything.”