McKenzie’s future still uncertain

Published 2:55 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

With less than two weeks remaining in the school year, the future of McKenzie School is still uncertain.

The possibility of the school being closed and consolidated with Georgiana School is very much still a possibility, but according to Butler County School Superintendent Darren Douthitt, he and the Butler County Board of Education are no closer to a decision now than they were when the option was first discussed in March.

“We haven’t brought that back to the table yet,” Douthitt said Wednesday. “… For the sake of our stakeholders we need to make a decision today, but we won’t make it today. It will likely be near the end of the month before we make a decision.”

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The reason for the delay in action according to the BOE is the lack of a finalized state education budget.

“I wish we already had a decision behind us one way or another, but without a finalized state budget we can’t enact any of the seven or eight proposed cuts that we discussed two months ago, including the possible closing of McKenzie School, because we just don’t know how severe the cuts will have to be,” board member Joe Lisenby said. “We can look at the projected numbers and listen to the politicians make their predictions, but until a final budget is passed everything is still just kind of up in the air.”

A proposed state education budget has passed the Senate, but has not yet passed the House of Representatives and has not been signed into effect by Gov. Robert Bentley. The Legislature is currently in recess.

“The Legislature promised to have a budget finished by the middle of May at the latest, but so far they haven’t met that deadline, because here it is the middle of May and we don’t have a finalized budget,” Lisenby said. “It looks like it will be the end of May before we get one, and then we’ll probably call a special meeting to discuss financial matters and prepare to finalize a budget for 2012 that would begin on Oct. 1 of this year.

“If the (state education) budget comes through before our next regular board meeting (on Thursday) I expect the superintendent would have a recommendation for us, but if it doesn’t come through I’m not sure we will take any action.”

According to Lisenby there is no doubt that the BOE’s new budget will feature cuts.

“We know that we have to make cuts, but we don’t know if we’ll be able to make those cuts with a reduction of personnel or if the cuts will be more severe,” he said.

The possibility of closing McKenzie School is the result of the school district ending the 2010 fiscal year with $1,126,854 in the General Fund, $609,521 less than the one-month operating balance required by the State Department of Education.

According to the BOE’s calculations, the consolidation of McKenzie and Georgiana schools would create a savings of $334,262.08.

The mention of closing McKenzie School was greeted with strong disapproval from McKenzie teachers, staff, students and supporters. An estimated 1,000 people showed up at the BOE’s March 17 work session at R.L. Austin Gymnasium on the Georgiana Campus to voice their concerns. Many of those supporters showed up wearing McKenzie colors and carrying signs that said “Save My School!”

Other options for offsetting the deficit that have been discussed include using bus hubs in Greenville to reduce transportation costs by $50,000 to $100,000; eliminating Central Office positions for a savings of $173,685.78; a 50-75 percent reduction of support staff positions for a savings of $567,855.93 to $851,783.90 and an energy costs reduction plan to save $150,000. Other options include restructuring long-term debt, which could generate a savings of $380,000 during the next two years; use of PSCA Funds for debt services for a savings of $410,000 and a reduction of athletic supplements by 50 percent to save $106, 996.50.

Lisenby also broached the possibility of reducing the board members stipend by 50 percent for a savings of $18,000.

Douthitt said all the options discussed in March are still on the table.

“Funding is ultimately the deciding factor, and we’re looking at every option available to us,” he said.

Multiple attempts to reach board president Linda Hamilton for comment were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach board members Billy Jones, Terry Williams and Mickey Jones were also unsuccessful.