Sup’t. Bearden sticks with closing 3 F’ville schools, rejects reasoning of 2 BoE members

Fayette County School System Superintendent Jeff Bearden has a dispute with two of his five bosses on the Board of Education about how to cut costs and which schools should be closed, and he has gone public with that dispute.

In a letter to the editor in the Aug. 15 edition, Bearden held firm to his belief that only three Fayetteville schools should be closed and Rivers Elementary outside the city opened. That’s at odds with board members Bob Todd and Marion Key.

Bearden said he wants what is best for the communities and students involved.

The politics of his positions are unclear. Of the other three members of the board, one (Janet Smola) opted not to seek reelection and has only five months remaining on the board, one (Terri Smith) switched from Republican to Democrat label and faces an uphill battle to retain her seat in the November general election, and the third (Leonard Presberg) is in an appointed slot.

After Jan. 1, Bearden may have lost his majority support on the board.

Bearden began the letter noting his initial recommendation and his position that he still stands behind his call to close Hood Avenue Primary, Fayette Intermediate and Fayette Middle School and open Rivers Elementary as a K-5 school.

The reasons for the recommendation were three-fold and included:

• Hood Avenue Primary and Fayette Intermediate were built in 1970 and 1974. Fayette Middle was built in 1986. While these buildings have been well maintained, they are not as modern as the school system’s newer facilities.

• The three schools that would close, because of their desirable location, could be re-purposed. With the current level of support for a College and Career Academy, one of the closed schools could be used either for that purpose or the academy could use the LaFayette Educational Center. If LEC is used the school system’s instructional department could move to one of the vacated buildings. The other closed schools could provide some much needed rental income to the school system.

• Displaced students would be relocated to attend another, more modern school.

Bearden also made reference to the reason behind the recommendation.

“In the past four years, Fayette County Public Schools has seen a decrease in local and state revenue of $25 million dollars and a loss of student enrollment of 1,800 students. We have too many schools and lack the financial resources to maintain the status quo,” he said.

Also in the letter, Bearden referenced the additional options of closing Brooks Elementary and/or Tyrone Elementary that surfaced at a school board meeting in the spring. His opposition to the closures of Tyrone and Brooks was based on economics, lengthy bus routes and community need.

“The loss of these two schools would have a detrimental economic impact on those two communities,” Bearden said. “Because these are the only two schools in these communities, property values may drop and families looking to move to Fayette would likely choose an alternative community. Some of our children from Brooks would have incredibly long bus rides to get to their nearest school. I do not believe the closure of these two schools is best for kids or for those two communities.”

Bearden also commented on the Aug. 6 recommendation by school board member Bob Todd to have another option considered: the closure of Inman Elementary along with Tyrone and Fayette Middle while keeping Rivers at its current function of serving a portion of the county’s special education students.

Bearden in the letter said he is also opposed to that option.

“If Inman were to close, because of its remote location, the district would struggle to find opportunities to re-purpose this facility. The plan proposed by Todd, and supported by Marion Key, would take our local taxpayers’ investment in facilities and basically leave these two state-of-the-art facilities unattended. I do not and will not support their proposal,” said Bearden.

Advocating for the continued use of Inman and the expanded use of Rivers, Bearden said, “Whether or not Inman, Rivers, and even Bennett’s Mill Middle School should have been constructed is irrelevant at this point in time. They were built. Our community has already invested over $23 million dollars on the construction of Inman and Rivers. They should be utilized to their capacity. My proposal does just that.”

Bearden concluded the letter saying that his decisions are always motived by what he thinks is best for the community and its children.

Though not a part of the letter, Bearden’s original proposal to close three schools and open one, a net closure of two schools, would generate a total savings of $1.6 million in administrative and utility costs. While substantial, those savings do not begin to address the much larger shortfall facing the school system next July.

Agreeing with Bearden’s recommendation, the school board on a 3-2 vote in June adopted a $177 million budget that required the use of $14.2 million of the $15 million June 30 fund balance. Aside from school closures and the savings from an as yet unknown number of resignations and retirements during the school year, Bearden has stated in previous board meetings that decreases in personnel expenditures will be used to balance the 2013-2014 budget that begins next July. Bearden to date has given no indication as to where the millions in personnel savings might come from.

americanpatriots's picture
Joined: 04/05/2010
BoE finacial report and forecast

Read the July 2013 BoE financial report

If this report is accurate, which I would bet my last dollar that it is not based on the previous four years of the CFO’s ridiculous financial reports and forecasts, we are on tract to spend almost all of our “rainy-day” $15 million fund balance by the end of June 2013.

We will undoubtedly be forced to resort to short-term borrowings to meet payroll expenses unless something is done immediately to stop the bleeding.

I wrote several articles that were published in the Citizen over the last three years pointing out how inaccurate the financial forecasting was month to month and year to year but no action was taken by the past or present superintendents who failed to acknowledge we had a serious problem or take any steps to avoid what we are now facing – school closings and a financial disaster in the making.

Obviously, the first thing you have to do to solve a problem is to admit you have one! The problem has been so obvious that even a child would have recognized it yet nothing was done.

Both Ben Nelms of the Citizen and I wrote several articles beginning over three years ago that clearly showed we had to close and consolidate several schools but, again, no action was taken.

If the past and present superintendents and board members, Smith and Smola had admitted a train wreck was headed our way, we would have had at least two years to address and fix the problem.

But, since many of the problems were the direct result of decisions that Smith and Smola had a major hand in making, it was not in their political interests to do anything.

Dr. Bob Todd, Marion Key, and the late Dr. Sam Tolbert, recognized the problem. But Smith and Smola started a smear campaign against Dr. Todd during his re-election bid in 2010 for saying we needed to close and consolidate some schools.

Well folks, events have unfolded that show that Nelms, Todd, Key, Tolbert and I were right on the money!

Why did we let this happen?

Click on the following link to read the July report.

Jim Richter

rmoc's picture
Joined: 03/22/2006
Brooks and Tyrone

Part of the big problem of shifting kids from Tyrone or Brooks Elementary is that these schools serve children at the far reaches of the county and the nearest schools to these (Crabapple and Burch) and (Peeples and Minter) are at capacity. I do see where Rivers could serve the Tyrone students since it is at the south end of the Tyrone elementary school boundary. It just isn't feasible to shift the Brooks kids. Even when the Brooks kids are sent to the Goza Road complex for middle school and high school the bus trips are very long. I live at the north end of the attendance area and my son had a 45 minute bus trip. I would not want to subject the younger ones to what could be an even longer ride if they had to go to Inman or Spring Hill.

heatjam's picture
Joined: 07/29/2007
Not at capacity

Minter is not at capacity and neither is Inman...both can accommodate the students from Brooks, as we are not talking about 500+ students

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
3 schools, Mr. Bearden? 6 or 7 is more like it

This guy is in Smith/Smola La-La land. Which is not quite yet to the first stage of problem-solving. That first stage is to admit you have a problem and try to define the problem. Not getting there is also called being in denial. We don't really have time for all that, but I suppose it won't hurt to wait until January when the newly elected come in and really address the monumental problems this school system has. My advice to Mr. Bearden is to get on board quickly or get out of the way. You are presiding over a disaster here with almost guaranteed declining enrollments for the next decade. You need to start making some big moves. I hate the committee idea usually, but in this case large numbers of citizens will be forced to confront the inevitable and admit we really do have a big problem. Gonna have to lose some teachers and other staff and sell some buildings and property just to keep out of the reserves.

We didn't elect any of those "I won't close your favorite school" candidates did we?

When do we get a chance to vote Pressberg out?

Here's a Bearden quote "......the district would struggle to find opportunities to re-purpose this facility. ................. would take our local taxpayers’ investment in facilities and basically leave these two state-of-the-art facilities unattended. I do not and will not support their proposal,” said Bearden.

Sounds like a northern liberal academic snob who may not realize he is an employee of the school board.

Here is a hint Mr. Bearden, this is not a temporary problem. You don't need to think about "re-purposing" anything. Close the schools, sell the buildings, let the new owners "re-purpose it"

americanpatriots's picture
Joined: 04/05/2010
Bearden forms two committees

School Superintendent, Jeff Bearden, has formed two groups, a ten-member cost-cutting task force and a school closings committee; and will host a public forum on school closings August 30, 2012 at 7 PM, Fayette County High School, 1 Tiger Trail, Fayetteville.

The school closings committee is doomed before it starts because Bearden has already publicly announced his decision so what is the point of the committee and who would want to waste their time serving on it?

Bearden will probably ignore the findings of both committees anyway and then he can take a page out of congress’ book and form a Super Committee, which he can then ignore just like Obama did last year.

Most committees are usually formed in an attempt to shift the blame for an unpopular decision to SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE INDIVIDUAL BEING PAID TO MAKE THE DECISIONS AND LEAD.

What is the end goal? What do we want the Fayette County school system to look like when the task is completed? Has anyone clearly articulated the aims and end goals? If the purpose is not clearly defined, the committees will lack direction and go off on many useless directions.

Over a year ago, Bearden had a chance to address the obvious financial problems looming on the horizon and the school closing issues, but he kicked the can down the road and failed miserably to lead us out of this mess.

Our “rainy-day” fund is about to be exhausted in paying for current fiscal year’s operating expenses. What happens after we spend all the money? Will the school system have to resort to short-term borrowings to cover payroll?

Bearden’s musings about raising the 20 millage rate ceiling has no chance whatsoever of being approved by Fayette County voters. We just demonstrated our appetite is NOT for more taxes. So, that effort would be total waste of time.

disgustedone's picture
Joined: 07/30/2012
"Over a year ago"? Bearden

"Over a year ago"? Bearden has only been here a year and a half. Did you expect someone to move into this community and start closing schools on the second day of the job?

Veritas's picture
Joined: 06/23/2010
Oh disgusted one

Are you saying Dr. Bearden is inept?
Other systems had complete audits completed with recommendations within six months of a new superintendent being appointed. Then recommended closing schools and redistricted a much larger system within one month of the recommendation. Right here in the metro area.

conditon55's picture
Joined: 03/12/2010
Decision Criteria ?

It is a classic decision making problem. Multiple scenarios, trade offs, advantages and disadvantages for each.

What is the problem ? Too much capacity - meaning too many class rooms ? Is it just the budget ?

What is the end goal ? When it is all said and done, what should the school system look like ? Local schools in or near communities, a more centralized approach ?

What is important? Is it simply short term money ? Is it local schools in the communities ? Is it how to trim capacity and budget and maintain educational excellence ?

What is on the table ?
Get rid of all temporary class room ?
Teacher layoffs ?
Schools closure ?
School mothball ?
Trim school system administrative staff ?
Out source busing ?

What is the planning horizon ? 1 year ? 3 years ? 5 years ?
What is expected county school population growth ?

Seems like it is necessary to agree on where we want to go, then it is easier to decide how to get there. And when.

Cway's picture
Joined: 08/12/2012

The board does appear to be in great disarray. There is a lot of finger pointing and under the breath comments between each of them.

At the August 6th meeting and at the Inman meeting, Dr. Todd did indicate he felt that "neighborhood schools" were important. He cited the study by UGA regarding the economic outlook of Fayette County to also be reason to stand ground or kick up dust.

I have very simple words, Fayette County is resilient and it will continue to thrive. Yes, we have taken our share of the slowed economy, but we continue to attract folks to our county. Fayette is not unlike other counties in Georgia, we have experienced the financial impacts of the collapsed markets and yes, we have lost neighbors to foreclosure. Bur we are still attracting families, young families to our county. I have to admit, I do witness resistance to progressive thinking within our school board. We are supposed to see our students receive the best possible... we cower when it is time to deliver it. These will be the ones who care for us down the road.

Yes, we have emptied the "piggy bank", propose plans to build it back up. The superindent has proposed the school system "market" its available resources, that is a start. Incubate business in Fayette, train our avaialable workforce to be more what is needed here in our state - - hey, there is an idea!

The path the school board is heading is not a pretty one, but as board members, we are counting on these people to lead us. We all need to pray for our children, our board and ourselves and VOTE when the time comes.

disgustedone's picture
Joined: 07/30/2012
Maybe the reason Bearden's

Maybe the reason Bearden's "politics are unclear" on this issue is that he isn't making his decisions based on politics?
School closures are not going to fix the budget problem in the county. It has been stated over and over again that closing schools will only make a small dent in the budget issue.
This is a common sense issue. Fayetteville schools are under capacity. The buildings are older buildings that are only going to require more money for maintainence in the future. Ten minutes from these schools there is a beautiful new building sitting underutilized that the community has already invested millions of dollars into. Closing the centrally located schools in the heart of Fayetteville will generate rental income.
It doesn't make any sense to close Inman. It is a newer facility and it's location makes renting it out unlikely. It will sit empty. It will still need to be maintained and paid for. If anything was a political ploy, it was the suggestion of closing Inman made by Bob Todd who has not shown support for Bearden from day one, despite the fact that all 5 board members voted unanimously to hire him. Bob Todd does not tell the truth and people have looked past it for years. He has stated several times that he has not recieved a cost analysis from Bearden. This is an obvious lie. The information has been posted right on the fcboe website for all to see. Is he really claiming he has not been given access to information that is posted publically? Beside him sits Marion Key, nodding her head no matter what he says. Her seat at the fcboe might as well be as vacant as her head. At the meeting they held at Inman, Todd avoided taking responsibility for his recommendation and reflected everything back onto the superintendent. He made an ass of himself and showed very little respect to the concerned citizens in front of him. Marion Key didn't even rise from her seat. These two are the future of fcboe? They're also the past. Look where we are.

Focusing on Fayetteville schools is not a political ploy or racism as has been eluded to by this paper, it is logic. The reason other communities aren't being looked at right now is because the schools in these other communities are already at capacity. There is also not the option of a brand new facility sitting nearly empty in these communities. Closing one or two additional schools is not going to balance the budget. There is little advantage to closing them. There should not be an eye for any eye mentality among communities.
Please educate yourself on this issue. Rather than spewing out questions in your posts, find the answers and share the truth. Try to look at it from a logical standpoint rather than a personal political issue. Education should not be about politics. It should be about kids and the future of our communities and country.
Look into Todd's claims about Bearden and consider his motives. Consider the motives of this paper. Consider the fact that both Todd and Key campaigned publicly for Marchman and this was never mentioned in the Citizen, yet the Citizen posted a picture of Presberg talking to someone holding a Hollowell sign. Consider that Todd and Key wrote a personal attack letter against Bearden and the rest of the fcboe printed in the paper followed up by a recap the next week. Just because someone has been here longer doesn't mean they are right. Seems that the issues plaguing this county have been here almost as long as the members of the fcboe. Maybe it is time for some new ideas? Maybe this community should elect board members with new ideas rather than complaining about the way things are. Don't be disappionted when Marchman and Bocallo turn into Key-type drones nodding silently at Todd's every word. It is easy to see that they are already being groomed for the process. It is sad that these two members of the board seem hell bent to drive out the Superintendent who has brought many innovative ideas to Fayette county and also seems to truly care about students, staff, and community and who stands up for what he feels is right, not what is pc. It is sad that they pit communities in this county against one another for political gain. No doubt Todd and Key are working hard to spread their untruths on to newcomers Marchman and likely Bacallao as well. This community will end up stuck with the same issues with this kind of leadership. The focus is all wrong. Budget is important. Kids are most important. I think the fact that this community has just elected another member of the fcboe based on politic agenda and finances, yet have looked right past the fact that he doesn't even send his kids to our schools says it all. The only investment he has here is money. Sad.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007
Marcia - You need

only say it once, it is generally polite to do so.

Marcia Bishop
Marcia Bishop's picture
Joined: 08/15/2012
School board debacle

I agree with the opening statement above regarding Dr. Bearden's motives not being political and I support the post by disgustedone. I also agree with the last few lines...

I am a Fayette county resident, home-owner, tax-payer and parent of two elementary school children. I moved to Fayette County specifically for the schools. I turned my 30 minute commute to work into 1-1.5hours, but I felt the trade-off was worth it for my children. I have been paying close attention to this issue for the last few months when the budget crisis, school closing discussions began. As I have read and re-read letters and posts like those mentioned above with board members taking pot-shots and spreading rumors about one another, I was reminded of the not-so distant past, when an equally egotistical and devisive school board lost SACS accreditation for their students in the near-by county of Clayton. I pray this does not happen to us.

I was at Inman Elementary Tuesday night. I heard Dr. Todd state and re-state, emphatically, that he did NOT recommend Inman be added to the list of closures. It was not until most of the parents/citizens were gone and he was confronted by someone who offered to replay the Podcast of the August 6th meeting that he finally threw up his hands and said "OK, OK, I said it!" Finally, a truth. Everytime a question was directed to Dr. Todd or Ms. Key, they had no real answers or alternative solutions. They laid everything at Dr. Bearden's feet. They had no answers, they had no data, they did not know much at all about neighborhoods, populations, or other demographics of the schools in the county even though they gave us a handout with some partial monetary figures on it. Supposedly this was because the data had not been handed to them. As a private citizen, I have been able to learn quite a bit given some time and the internet. Could they not endeavor to do the same?

The financial analysis HAS been done. The truth is ugly, and doesnt seem to support some of Dr. Todd's and Ms. Keys ideas, but Dr. Bearden appears to have a plan, beginning with school closures and continuing with revenue-generating ideas and more cuts. All of the schools were evaluated. The truth is, Peachtree City Elementary was looked at because it was built in 1962. But, like most of the Peachtree City schools, it is operating at capacity and even a few students over. There is no place to send 500 extra students. Furthermore, 90% of the budget costs are personnel costs...the next measures will need to include a reduction in workforce..I can hardly wait for the screaming to begin on that one.

As to the Brooks and Tyrone debate, if you look at the bus routes and where the students live in the southern-most parts of the county, there are many unpaved, rural roads. Bussing those students to the closet schools would keep the kids on the bus each way for up to an hour. I checked this for myself, driving though these areas. Would I want this for my kids? NO. I don't want it for anyone else's either!

I would not want to be in Dr. Bearden's position. It is much easier to be a self-serving board member and give mandates for recommendations, then reject them.

Another fact...Rivers IS open.....paying utilities and all, for about 50 special ed students and some makes more sense to consolidate 2 old schools into a new one that is less expensive to maintain and offers better equipment, technology, etc. Our tax dollars have already been spent on it.

The argument has been made that Inman is not a "community school". The fact is, the school board made those families a community when East Fayette was closed. And those families stick together for the best interests of their children...Hopefully, students formerly assigned to FIS and Hood Avenue can find the same type of community spirit in the coming years in a nice, new facility.

It is easy for us all to be arm-chair quarterbacks and put forth our ideas in this blog, of what should be done....perhaps we should truly listen to all that Dr. Bearden has to offer as suggestions and support his ideas.

Braves Fan
Braves Fan's picture
Joined: 04/05/2009
Re: School Board Debacle

Excellent post. Thank you Marcia

"And the truth shall see us free"

g8trgrl's picture
Joined: 10/31/2007
closing of schools

Brooks Elementary is not that far from Peeples Elementary - they could easily go there with some of the kids going to Minter. Their ride would probably be about the same as the Hood kids to Rivers. If old schools are the criteria for closing, then Tyrone & Brooks need to close. Tyrone is on SEPTIC! Close schools across the county, not just one area. Then, maybe we will cut some expenses.

NUK_1's picture
Joined: 12/17/2007
Bearden already had a chance a year ago....

...and he kicked the can down the road as quickly and as hard as he could. This is not a leader by any means, which is why the 14mil+ in reserves disintegrates this year and there is NO PLAN AT ALL on how to deal with next year.

His revenue enhancing ideas of out of county students paying tuition sounds great until you realize that out of county students have been in the system for years without paying, so why would they pay now? Is the BOE actually going to crackdown on that? LOL, I think not.

As far as petitioning the state of GA and having a referendum on lifting the 20mill maximum, HELL NO. That ain't going to fly and is a total cop-out.

Look, Bearden knew exactly what he was getting into when he accepted the job and I don't want to hear his whining to the newspaper about anyone on the BOE after those fools recently extended his contract.

I'm just glad my brood are both in college and out of the FC because it's going to be really ugly for several years to those students/parents/teachers still in the system. My main concern is that the school system is likely to collapse and that isn't so wonderful when you happen to own property in PTC/FC and an imploded school system hardly helps your property value or the city/county itself. It might help make Steve Brown's dream of FC becoming a retirement community happen quicker, but for most residents, it wouldn't be a positive at all or why they live in FC in the first place.

chadf's picture
Joined: 09/26/2009
Closing schools would save millions

Closing schools would take care of 10-20% of the budget problem for next year. I hardly call that a "small dent."

You are right that Inman should not be closed. Don't close new schools - close older ones (like the 3 in Fayetteville that the superintendent proposes AND Tyrone and Brooks).

At first, I sympathized with those campaigning to keep Brooks and Tyrone open. But, I have been so disgusted with some in that group who are arrogant egotists. They think the rest of us should pay the bill to keep underenrolled, aging facilities open. Grow up, guys! Your whining is getting tiring. Worse, it is particularly upsetting to see some of your bullying tactics (emails, posts, and public comments). They would have you think that anyone who supports closing THEIR schools hates little children and would like to see them ride buses 5 hours a day. Exaggeration is their strong suit.

disgustedone's picture
Joined: 07/30/2012
I would consider it a small

I would consider it a small dent considering the amount of upset it has caused in the community.

Braves Fan
Braves Fan's picture
Joined: 04/05/2009
Where's the Study? / School Closing Options

How can anyone propose a specific school to be closed at this juncture if a thorough cost/benefit anaylsis has yet to be conducted on the matter?

This is the intellectual equivalent of spinning a wheel or throwing darts at a board to determine what schools should be closed.

If closing the gap on a $15M budget deficit is the true object for any school closings, what the School Board should be saying is that


for proposed closings in order to achieve this goal. Moreover, wouldn't you want to employ a strategy that accomplishis the goal by looking at your oldest and most expensive properties first and utilize your newest investments to their fullest capacity?

Dr. Todd stood in front of the parents and teachers of Inman Elementary on Tues. night and basically talked out of both sides of his mouth. Needless to say, he lost all credibility within the 1st ten minutes.

Any specific school names being tossed around at this point is pure political posturing, nothing more.

SHOW US ANALYSIS WITH SOME LOGIC AND COMMON SENSE INVOLVED! ... Don't just throw school names around for your own political agendas.

citizenal's picture
Joined: 07/17/2008
We need the full picture to decide

The larger issue of the budget shortfall needs to be addressed now so that we have the full picture when considering school closings. Reduced staffing likely means reduced classes and potentially increased class sizes. This is a significant factor in looking at facilities.

It is time to stop doing things piece meal and start doing the whole job.

The Mole
The Mole's picture
Joined: 07/13/2010
Old School Buildings

Bearden's reason is Hood and FIS aren't "modern". Since when does a school building educate the child? Hasn't the BOE maintained these buildings? Did the BOE just put 21st century technology in every classroom at a cost of $3500 per classroom? If this was one criteria for choosing these schools, why not Brooks-1960? Why not Peachtree City-1968? Why not Tyrone-1970? Why not Huddleston -1979?
Lengthy bus routes? Therefore, it is ok to bus children out of Fayetteville to Inman and to Rivers, and don't forget FMS bussed from Fayetteville to Bennett’s Mill.

wanttoknow's picture
Joined: 10/31/2007
Old School Buildings

Mole. . . If you'll look at the redistricting that will have to be done to close the schools, you'd see that there are kids on the East side of Fayco that would travel about the same distance each day from their homes to either their new school at Rivers or Inman. As for FMS, you're talking about a 3 minute ride from where they are going to school now. Give us all a break and get yourself in the mind set of doing what is the right thing to do. . . financially (by closing schools that are in locations that would be attractive for resale while they also cost more to run and maintain due to age) and most importantly by giving the kids the best facilities possible in the event that we do have to close schools. The teachers at all facilities involved are excellent, so the teaching aspect of the equation is a moot point.

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