Students at Byrd Elementary School head home after a day at school Wednesday. The Selma City School Board is set to vote on a proposed plan that would close Byrd, along with School of Discovery and Phoenix School. If the plan is approved, the schools would be closed beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. -- Chris Wasson

School closure vote to be held

Published 10:35pm Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The debate and deliberations over whether to close three Selma City Schools has continued all the way to less than 24 hours before a potentially deciding vote.

With only hours remaining before the Selma City School Board meets at Payne Elementary School Thursday evening to vote on a plan that calls for three schools to be shuttered, some principals and board members are still not satisfied with the process led by Selma superintendent of education Donald Jefferson.

Each of the three targeted schools are located in the district of board member Frank Chestnut Jr., who said he would like to see figures for all of the schools before a decision is made.

“I think that a decision is tough unless we can put specific numbers with specific schools, and that should include all schools,” Chestnut said. “I don’t think it would be fair to close any schools without solid numbers and solid data.”

Though a lot of information has been made available, Byrd Elementary School principal Beth Taylor, whose school is one of the three proposed to be closed, said she agrees with Chestnut and would like to see system-wide figures.

“The information that is out there is good, but do I think it is all the information? No,” Taylor said.

The proposed plan calls for the closure of Byrd Elementary, School of Discovery and Phoenix School.

The board’s meeting at Payne Elementary School will begin at 6 p.m. and is the board’s regularly scheduled meeting for the month of May.

The research, Jefferson said, was conducted before he took over the office in an interim, and eventually permanent role.

Jefferson said it is never a pleasant experience to close schools, but added it could be for the best.

“If we do have to close any schools it will be a sad day for everyone,” he said. “It’s like a patient who is going to have a limb amputated. It’s tough, but you have to do it for the overall health. That’s how I feel. You don’t want to have to close any schools, but it can also make the system run more efficiently.”

Jefferson said going from 11 to nine schools could make a big difference in the system’s bottom line. The savings could be as much as $500,000 per year.

Despite the numerous discussions, town hall meetings and figures made available, board member Holland Powell said there is still work to be done before an informed decision can be made. Powell said he would like to see more accurate information.

“The information is different each time it is presented so it is difficult to know what the real impact is,” he said. “This speaks to the leadership at the central office and lack of what I believe is a complete understanding of the real financial position of the school system.”

The board, Powell said, only has veto power and the superintendent is the one who can offer recommendations according to state law.

When the final decision is made, Taylor said she hopes the thoughts and feelings of parents are taken into consideration.

“If they truly listened to the people at the town hall meetings there is only one way they could vote,” she said.

Chestnut agreed, saying the closures can be harmful to the students and their neighborhoods.

“When you close schools in a community you leave empty holes and empty hearts,” Chestnut said. “We also have no transit system and these kids are walking so we are endangering them.”

Attempts to reach school board president Henry Hicks Jr. and School of Discovery principal Gerald Shirley were unsuccessful.

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