To help with $7.9 million in cuts expected from the state over the next two fiscal years, the Troup County school board is considering eliminating the fine-arts focus and converting West Side into a school for kindergartners through fifth-graders.
Parents and teachers were shaken up about the budget cuts, which could alter the school.
“I’m sorry,” West Side PTO president Carol Yin said at Tuesday’s meeting, attended by 100 or so parents and teachers. “I’m just, kind of, emotional and unnerved by the whole situation.”
The potential change comes as the school system has taken heavy cuts to combat a large deficit in the state budget. What began as about a 3 percent decline in state revenue ended up as a 15 percent drop.
Changing West Side Magnet was one of the last of about 40 budget-cutting proposals presented to the school board at the beginning of the fiscal year. It’s a regular practice to discuss options for budget cuts for Chief Financial Officer Don Miller and his staff.
“We can’t address a $4 million problem for (fiscal year) 2011 and another $4 million problem for FY 2012 without impacting everybody,” Miller said. “And that would even include the community.”
In considering the change at West Side, officials noted that about 73 percent of its students are bus riders, brought from all parts of Troup County. The third-through-eighth-grade school posts a per-student transportation cost of $1,198, more than twice the zone average of $529.
Additionally, the cost of maintaining the fine arts magnet school distinction is heavy, with additional teacher salaries covering art programs, officials said.
The change is expected to save $564,786.
West Side is not the only school facing possible changes. The board also is considering merging two elementary schools. Officials met with Cannon Street Elementary administrators and school council members Monday to discuss consolidating the school with Mountville Elementary. Both schools are under-enrolled.
The board also is looking at other options, including:
n Not replacing a third of the school system positions, or about 30 people, left vacant by attrition has been discussed.
n Shortening the school calendar by 20 days, such as Murray County schools did, or reducing the work week to four days, like Peach County schools, also have been put forward. Both options would require a longer school day and some parents to make additional after-school care options. System officials expressed reservations toward an extended day, believing that the system’s quality of learning could drop.
n Increasing the millage rate could potentially save $2 million, but officials believe that should be a final resort. Increasing the millage would affect all property owners in the county.
“It’s a difficult time, and we’re probably one or two years behind the curve,” Miller said, thanks to 59 teacher and 16 administrative positions eliminated in 2003, saving about $4 million.
Miller said budget-cutting decisions are difficult for everyone involved, but no recommendations have been made to the school board. Recommendations will be made between today and Dec. 13. The board will hear concerns from residents after its Dec. 14 caucus meeting.
“What we’re trying to do right now, we’re still in information gathering … for (Superintendent Ed) Smith to be able to make some recommendations the week of Dec. 14,” Miller said. “That’s the game plan.”
“Everybody’s in the same boat. They want to protect their school, which is what you would expect them to do. What we’re trying to go out and explain is that we’ve got a $4 million problem. We don’t have the option of doing nothing.”
School system officials met with West Side’s school council Tuesday afternoon to discuss the possible change and other potential routes the school could take.
Students for West Side are selected through a countywide lottery. Applications are made for students beginning with rising third-graders, although names can be put in for students in fourth through eighth grades. It’s not a 100 percent lottery, however. Some slots are saved for students of lower socioeconomic status.
Parents and students’ relatives at Tuesday evening’s meeting were upset at the thought of West Side being transformed into a regular elementary school.
Regenia Andrews, grandmother of a West Side student and a former Troup County school board member, was outspoken about the potential change, saying changing West Side Magnet would be a massive loss for the school system.
“This is a very hard decision for them to cut the budget, but I also know that there are ways they can cut the budget without affecting the children,” she said “… Does Troup County school system really want to take that opportunity to take a jewel out of their crown, because that is in fact what will happen if we lose West Side Magnet School.”
Andrews encouraged parents to pack the Administrative Services Center for the Dec. 14 caucus meeting, be positive and approach board members with their concerns in an effort to remove West Side Magnet from any possible budget recommendations.
T-shirts reading “Save West Side Magnet School” were being sold, and students were encouraged to write letters, make phones calls and paint yard signs to promote the school.
“(The school board members have) got to realize that when they take that vote, and if they take that vote to … turn West Side Magnet School into a K-5 school, they’re affecting a lot of children in a detrimental way,” Andrews said.
Trey Wood can be reached at twood @ lagrangenews. com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 228.