With budgets getting tighter, Hall County school officials say they can’t afford to continue to operate 21 elementary schools.
After review, Jones Elementary School stood out as one that could possibly be closed next year.
"We considered three schools — McEver, Jones and Riverbend, which are our three smallest elementary campuses," Superintendent Will Schofield said during Monday’s school board meeting. "But once we started looking at where these students could go geographically and the age of the facilities, Jones rose to the top. We’re not saying that this is the best option, but it is an option."
Jones, which is located in the Chicopee neighborhood, was built in 1949, and enrollment for next school year is projected to be about 350 students. According to Schofield, there is classroom space within five miles of the school to accommodate about 800 elementary students.
System officials cite the need for about $350,000 in repairs as another reason why Jones is a candidate for closure; not everyone agrees.
"I’m not an engineer, but I’m at that school daily and I haven’t seen any major damage," said Chad Cobb, Jones Parent Teacher Organization president. "And in the last six years, they’ve done a lot of updating."
Cobb said he has been an active participant in the school’s PTO since his youngest daughter, who is now a Jones fifth-grader, was in kindergarten. Although system officials have said if the school is closed that existing staff will be placed elsewhere, Cobb said that does little to soothe a worried school population.
"We’re a family — teachers, students, parents, administrators, janitors, everybody. All of the teachers may have jobs, but we’re still a family," Cobb said. "This is a lot to take in in one day, but I think there are other ways to save money. Sometimes you have to go with what’s in your heart and not always what’s in the pocketbook."
Although the system began researching the possibility of closing one of the schools earlier this month, Jones parents weren’t notified until Monday about the possibl closing. Jones Principal Hank Ramey alerted parents in a letter that was sent home with students.
It is estimated that closing the school could save the system more than $1 million annually.
"We’re looking at every option that we have — we have to," said Richard Higgins, school board chairman. "If we do go down this road, we need to have a public hearing to let the people voice their opinions. We’re just trying to survive and save as many jobs as we can."
Last year, the system closed a middle school, but, according to administrators, closing a middle or high school isn’t a viable option this year because classrooms at both levels are near capacity.
Although consolidating schools would mean larger class sizes, system officials say classes will not exceed state-mandated maximums.
Both the Jones PTO and the Hall school board plan to host meetings for the school community; however, dates haven’t been set.