A smaller, but still outspoken, crowd showed up Monday to the second hearing on the proposed closing of Unity Elementary School.
Tommy Callaway repeated a proposal from the previous hearing that the school system close Hope Academy, which he said has 61 alternative school students. He said the school system should go to a shortened 165-day school year. Callaway argued that the school system’s decision to lengthen the school days the last time it shortened the calendar was unnecessary, while Superintendent Cole Pugh said at the beginning of the meeting that it was necessary to meet state-required instruction time.
Callaway also repeated proposals from the previous hearing to eliminate graduation and academic coaches. He said that there should be fewer assistant principals at some schools, and that the school system should eliminate its public relations department. He criticized the board hiring Torrance Construction as a construction manager “at risk” over HVAC repairs that Torrance Construction and G3 were hired to complete, saying that having a construction manager at risk over the project was an unnecessary additional expense.
Frank Gurley, a former assistant superintendent, said he has been part of the advisory task force discussing the budget options and that he had undergone a transition from being emotional about the proposal to close a school to realizing the necessity of closing a campus in order to make the school system more efficient.
“If you’re like me, it’s gonna take a while to absorb that, and it’s hard to get past the emotional part and look at the facts and make decisions,” he said.
Backy Grubbs, a retired teacher, said she was very concerned with the state of education in Troup County and across the country. She said that teachers and students are at the root, and something needs to be done.
She said that housing large groups of students in a building isn’t practical and that money is not the ultimate factor in the quality of education. The school system needs to concentrate on strengthening its teachers.
Willie Cofield said the school system stated its task to make decisions for the long-range best interests of the school system, “but what about our children, what about our neighborhoods?” He said that when the school system closes a school, it closes a neighborhood, because people don’t want to live in a neighborhood with a closed school.
“People of color and people of low income pay for this school closing,” Cofield said. “We’re hollering; hear us.”
Willie Cameron, president of the Troup County chapter of NAACP, noted that recent school closures have been in “historically black neighborhoods” and said that black communities in Troup County have been hit hard by the closings.
“We’re here because the people of Troup County are simply saying that we deserve so much better,” Cameron said.
Chris Thompson said that the school officials need to plan on where the materials will be sent from Unity once it’s closed, and criticized the plans to use special-purpose, local option sales tax money to build new schools. She added that items still at West Side Magnet School need to be sent to schools with the greatest need and not “just sit there and go to pot.”
John Thompson, who previously worked in transportation, said that the school system still has transportation problems that it needs to address. He added that any officials that had been in Georgia long enough should have known that the state’s quality basic education funding would dwindle to less than the local share.
Other speakers at Monday’s hearing addressed possible zoning changes that could also be implemented next year. Some residents were worried that they would be put into a different high school zone and how that would affect their children.
The board is expected to discuss the proposed closure at its Feb. 19 caucus meeting and vote on the proposed closure at its Feb. 21 regular meeting.