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Georgiana’s citizens get satisfaction with school name change

The renaming of the Butler County Magnet School to Georgiana School on Thursday night closed the door on one of the Board of Education’s most controversial decisions.

The board voted in 2008 to name the new $14 million K-12 school being constructed in Georgiana the Butler County Magnet School, a name they said represented the school’s mission: to be an institution of learning with focus on technology, science and mathematics. The move was decried by elected officials in Georgiana and parents of students alike. Butler County Commissioner Jerry Hartin said the board’s decision had caused divisiveness in the Georgiana community. Parents openly petitioned the board to reconsider naming the school, but were denied. The school opened in August 2009 as the Butler County Magnet School, consolidating the former Georgiana High School and Robert L. Austin Elementary.

On Thursday, though, that all changed.

What precipitated the reversal, said board members, was the elimination of the school’s magnet program because of dwindling federal funds and a prorated school budget. Stimulus funds were keeping the magnet program afloat and could have continued to do so, they said, for a short period of time.

“We could have went on another year and drained it,” said Board Member Johnny Lee. “But we didn’t. We acted on it right now and that way it will save a lot for everybody.”

Hartin said what happened on Thursday was what he and the commission had envisioned when they passed a half-cent sales tax in 2007 to fund school construction and renovation.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Hartin. “We’re ending the magnet school program which a lot of people have invested a lot of time and money in….but this is what we worked for: for R.L. Austin and Georgiana to be combined and be named so. So it’s a bittersweet moment, but its a great day for Butler County and the south end of this county.”

The school’s gymnasium will be named for R.L. Austin, who was a longtime principal of the city’s K-6 school.

“I understand the county’s point of view of naming it the Butler County Magnet School, but the people of Georgiana were not satisfied with it,” said Mayor Mike Middleton. “Now, I think, the people of Georgiana will come together and make our school what it should be.”

Middleton said he regretted the loss of the school’s magnet program as well, but he believed students in Georgiana would still receive a quality education.

The name change is effective Oct. 1, 2010.

Board members said eliminating the magnet program will save between $400,000 and $500,000 next school year.