School ClosingsLeonard Presberg
Why and What Happens Next
Why close a wonderful school? How is it possible to do it four times? What is rotten in the County of Fayette?
Eighty-nine million dollars. That’s how much money the state has failed to provide for Quality Basic Education in Fayette County over the last decade. (And don’t we want better than Quality Basic?)
Couple that with the decline in property values in Fayette County and the loss of that tax revenue.
Factor in the aging population. We’ve got more people eligible for school tax exemptions. And we’ve got fewer students.
Add the increase in State health care benefits for each employee (in addition to the already decreased contribution to each employee’s premium.) Add in the decrease in federal funds due to the sequester.
Don’t forget that our school system, like many others throughout this community, overbuilt capacity assuming continued growth. (Not that this was necessarily wrong to do at the time – hindsight is 20-20.)
Bottom line – we, like everyone else, must do more with less.
I have received a large number of other cost-cutting suggestions over the last year. I have read and thought about them all and I have passed them on to our Superintendent to consider. Some have some merit, some do not. All are always considered. But remember that our budget is over 90% personnel. Any significant budget reductions must include a significant reduction in personnel.
Closing schools offers a way to equitably adjust class size while reducing the number of classroom teachers we need. Closing schools also eliminates building level positions (like principals, secretaries, counselors and others) and allows other school level allotments to be made more efficiently (such as parapros and teachers of PE, Art, Music, etc.).
Could we have “kicked the can down the road?” Hoped for some movie-studio growth? Maybe. With near zero reserves. And by greatly impacting students at smaller schools. (If some children have access to a counselor full time, shouldn’t everyone?)
But delay just leaves us faced with the same decisions in six months or a year. And that isn’t fair to anyone. (And may even have the same impact on property values that we worry closing the schools may cause.)
There is no doubt that there are heavy hearts in Fayetteville, in Tyrone and in Brooks. My relatives, my good friends, and many more people that I’ve never met are all being severely effected by this. In some sense, it’s not really fair – they are being impacted more than others.
I truly hurt for those people and those communities.
But we, as a society, have decided we don’t want to fund education as much as we did.
I, as a school board member, must divide up the remaining money in the way that is the most fair to all of the students in Fayette County.
[And I must digress here to say I mean ALL of the students of Fayette County. We are a public school system dedicated to every student, regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, sexual orientation or anything else. Some of the bigoted comments I’ve gotten about “those kids” have no place in our community.]
Each school is unique and I weighed each decision carefully. Issues such as history, community, potential property value loss, uniqueness of programs, location, and many others were evaluated.
I believe these four school closings to be the cornerstone of the budget reductions we are being forced to make. Even though it is causing a lot of pain, I believe closing these schools is the best choice for our system at this time.
I think it’s the best way for us to do more with less in way that is fair to all our students, in a way that preserves programs as much as possible, and in a way that is sustainable for the near future.
As to whether this ends up to be right decision, only time will tell. I hope the economy grows and we’re opening schools again. And rehiring parapros. And expanding programs. But if it doesn’t, our system must be prepared and flexible enough to continue to excel.
We as a community must now move forward. We must turn together to answering the next set of questions.
How can we all support our children as they adjust to new circumstances?
How can we all support our school system employees? What nice thing can you do for a teacher today?
We are about to interview for our next Superintendent of Schools. What qualities are important to you? What is your vision for Fayette County Schools?
What kind of school system do you want to have?
Stay informed and involved.