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County might shuffle South Hall schools to save $1.5 million

POSTED: February 2, 2009 10:31 p.m.

Valentine Padilla paints the outside of the new school on Spout Springs Road as construction continues Monday. Flowery Branch High School students, faculty and staff could be moved to the new building.

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The Hall County school board is considering transferring three South Hall schools to different school buildings in August to save $1.5 million in startup costs associated with opening the new Spout Springs high school.

The plan calls for South Hall Middle School students to relocate to C.W. Davis Middle School, and for Davis Middle students to move into the current Flowery Branch High School building. Flowery Branch High students would move to the new $36.5 million school building off Spout Springs Road.

Before the school board presented the new plan Monday, school officials had settled on a plan to move Flowery Branch High 10th- through 12th-graders into the Spout Springs building. Flowery Branch High’s ninth grade was to remain in the Hog Mountain Road building and be joined by Davis Middle’s eighth grade. Instead of operating with 35 schools in the Hall County system next year as planned, the system may stick with its current 34 school programs.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said when the Hall County school board planned the new 1,500-student capacity building, Flowery Branch High was projected to have 1,800 students by the 2010-2011 school year. Flowery Branch High currently is in a 1,200-student capacity building built in 2002 on Hog Mountain Road.

Schofield said opening a new school on Spout Springs is no longer a dire need because Hall County did not have the enrollment growth expected for the 2008-2009 school year.

Instead of taking on about 800 new students as the system has each year for about the last 10 years, Schofield said the system gained only about 60. Though projections showed some 600 new students in the Flowery Branch middle and high school district for the 2009-2010 school year, Schofield said the latest projections show fewer than 60 students will enroll in the South Hall school zone.

"Nobody saw this growth slowing down," said Hall County school board member Nath Morris. "This is almost a perfect fit," he said of the proposed plan.

With enrollment growth slowing and the school board anticipating at least $10 million in cuts for next school year’s budget, the board is considering relocating Flowery Branch High — all teachers, students and programs — to the new building off Spout Springs Road to avoid startup costs. Schofield said the new building has a 1,500-student capacity and would accommodate the needs of the 1,440 students, faculty and staff of Flowery Branch High.

School board Chairman Richard Higgins said the system is bracing to operate with about 75 to 100 fewer positions next year due to the tight budget, and the savings on opening the Spout Springs facility could save about 24 teachers’ jobs.

"I think by doing this, we’re showing we’re doing everything we can to save jobs," Higgins said. "And I think we’re showing the community we’re doing everything possible to save taxpayer dollars."

Schofield said keeping the teaching force intact is vital to providing Hall County students a quality education.

The relocation of South Hall Middle students to the Falcons Parkway building would allow for needed renovations at South Hall Middle’s Poplar Springs Road building, Schofield said. He said the renovations likely would take about two years to complete.

In addition, Johnson High School could instruct students in the vacant South Hall Middle facilities after they are renovated, which would allow classroom space at Johnson High to undergo renovations.

"This is going to be a fairly radical step, but a step the times demand," Schofield said of the school shuffling plan.

"It’d be a great opportunity to renovate South Hall Middle," he said. "We’re just making lemonade out of lemons."

Flowery Branch High School Principal Mark Coleman said he supports the new plan.

"It is radical ... but I don’t think there will be resistance in our community to provide assistance to a school next door," Coleman said.

Schofield said costs would total more than $1 million to hire a custodial crew, cafeteria workers and clerical assistants for the Spout Springs school and furnish its media center and front office.

The shuffling of students to different buildings also will take students out of 25 portable classrooms at Davis Middle and Flowery Branch High, and put them into permanent buildings. Schofield said savings on portable leases would put the total savings associated with not opening the Spout Springs building at about $1.5 million.

The $50,000 it will cost for teachers to pack up and move their classrooms pales in comparison to the costs of opening a 35th school, he said.


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