Hearing focuses on dollars and cents

Published 8:43 pm Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recent discussions concerning the consolidation of Byrd School and the School of Discovery into other locations have been fueled by emotion. However, Tuesday’s public hearing at School of Discovery was fueled by figures.

Parents, teachers and administrators compared numbers in their quest to find a suitable solution to the system’s budget woes.

Funding shortfalls, Selma City Schools Superintendent Don Jefferson said, have put the board’s back against the wall. However, he said, they are eager to hear from the public on any solutions.

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“This is not easy and this is not fun and games,” he said. “We have got to figure out something to do.”

The system, Jefferson said, begins each year with a $1 million capital purchase fund that can be used for general purchases. The construction of the new Selma High School receives $240,000 leaving less than $800,000 to be divided among the city’s 11 other schools.

Because of the budget shortfalls, School of Discovery teacher Becky Nichols suggested all aspects of finance be considered when choosing schools for consolidation.

“We need to put every other school on the chopping block and let them all be discussed,” she said. “The closure of these schools should be based on accurate data gathered from years of study conducted by credible and professional people.”

Byrd School principal Beth Taylor echoed these sentiments. Taylor said there are other expenses that have not been considered.

“You say we are on a cost saving mission, we have not been broken into,” she said. “You have not had to replace computers, air conditioners and other things that you have at other schools.”

District 3 representative Frank Chestnut Jr., who represents the district with discussed closures, said he would like to see a more thorough process as well.

“I hope it won’t bean easy decision to just levy the weight on the schools that are in my district,” he said. “I hope this is a decision that will look at the entire system.”

Not all parents speaking opposed the move. Patricia Walker, who represented a group of parents with children in these schools, said they are in favor of whatever is necessary.

“Our kids don’t have a lot of materials,” she said. “Our kids need books. They can’t bring their books home if they have homework. Let’s think as a parent and let’s support our school board on some of these things.”

Others who spoke at the meeting voiced concerns over the number of administrators in Selma City Schools. Some even suggested cutting administrative positions to pad the budget. However, Jefferson said the number of administrators is set by SACS and required by each system in proportion to its student population.

Putting a budget together has become increasingly difficult every year with shrinking finances and growing expenses, Jefferson said.

“We had a $65,000 electric bill for the month of January alone,” he said. “We had 11 percent proration for the 2008-2009 school year. We had 9.5 percent for the 2009-2010 school year. We don’t know what we are going to have for the next year.”

The outlook for the upcoming year, District 1 representative Holland Powell said, is grim. Heading into 2011-2012, Powell said the system could be $3 million short of necessary revenue.

The problems, Powell said, go beyond a simple solution on the local level.

“We need to let the people in Montgomery know that we are mad as hell,” he said. “We need to let Darrio Melton and Hank Sanders know how we feel. We’re asking for accountability of taxpayer dollars.”