Hall County’s schools chief spoke Monday night in defense of the Hall County Board of Education’s position concerning whether to close Jones Elementary School as a cost-saving measure.
Superintendent Will Schofield said he was offended by assertions that closing the school is a “done deal, we’re just going through this for fun, we’re going to close it anyway.”
“As the man who sits and drinks coffee with these men, who say, ‘I didn’t sleep last night again, this is an incredibly difficult decision,’ I feel an obligation to stand at their back and stand in the gap,” he said at the end of a second and final public hearing on the matter.
“Nobody has made the decision. In fact, (the board) has continued to ask me to put this decision off as long as is possible, until all the information comes in.”
Andrea Chastain, president of the Chicopee Village Homeowners Association, broached the subject in her comments to the board.
Newspaper reports keep referring to a “potential closing, but yet when (talking) to school board members, they’re telling me it’s a done deal,” she said.
“Why are we here if it’s a done deal? Is this a formality to appease people who only think that they’re giving input?”
A handful of other residents and parents spoke up at the meeting, moved from the Hall County central office to nearby First Baptist Church in bracing for a heavy crowd that didn’t show.
“As a parent of a student who goes to Jones, just make sure that before you disrupt the lives of all the students at the school, that you have looked at every option available to you, which I feel like you have,” Marlon Mayfield said.
The board is weighing the decision expecting a tough budget year starting in July.
If the school is closed, students are expected to be split between McEver and Chicopee Woods elementary schools.
Mary Beth Sutton referred to a comment by Schofield that, if Jones is closed, the school system possibly could use the vacant building as a revenue-raising pre-kindergarten center.
“I was wondering why we couldn’t just dedicate a wing of our school to that pre-K idea, since we are small, and continue to have Jones Elementary in that facility,” she said.
A vacant building would be left “to the discretion of vandals and any other person who wants to ... destroy our property,” Sutton added.
“I think it’s going to cause property values in the Chicopee area to drop and cause great concern for homeowners around our school.”
Chad Cobb, president of Jones PTO, asked if other schools would be on the chopping block if tax revenues don’t improve in the next few years.
“If we keep closing small elementary schools, we’re going to lose the heritage of the county,” he said. “... I just pray that you use your heart ... instead of your pocketbooks on this decision.”
Jones has an estimated enrollment of 350 students for next school year. By comparison, McEver’s estimated enrollment is 485 students and Chicopee’s estimated enrollment is 765 students.
The board expects to make a final decision about the possible closure by its next work session, which is set for 5 p.m. May 10.
Staff writer Brandee Thomas contributed to this report.