Having decided to abandon the idea of creating a 6th Grade academy at Kings Bridge Middle School in a bid to relieve overcrowding at West Jackson Middle School, Jackson County School System leaders are now planning to present a totally new proposal Monday night that includes consolidating some school facilities on the East side.
Among the ideas that are expected to be presented Monday night is a plan to move South Jackson Elementary School into the newer Kings Bridge Middle School facility; consolidating KBMS 6th and 7th Graders into East Jackson Middle School; adding 8th Graders to East Jackson Comprehensive High School; and building a new wing onto West Jackson Intermediate School. School leaders say the consolidation moves would save around $500,000- $1 million next year.
The Jackson County Board of Education will meet for its regular session at 6 p.m. followed by a community meeting at 7 p.m.
School leaders have been focused in recent weeks on exploring ways to relieve overcrowding in facilities on the West side of the county which has seen much more growth than the East side. According to data presented last week, the West side will reach its capacity of classrooms next year while the East side won’t reach capacity until 2026.
But the focus of those efforts has now shifted somewhat after new financial data was presented at the BOE’s Thursday night meeting. An amended budget for the current year shows that despite some cost cutting through attrition, the system faces using up a significant part of its reserves by the end of the current fiscal year. The amended budget shows that the system will use up $4 million out of its $6 million in reserves by June 30.
By mothballing SJES and making more use of newer facilities, system leaders believe a lot of money could be saved next year. A new wing on WJIS would give the system additional classrooms on that side of the county to help relive overcrowding.
Last Thursday, the BOE held a community meeting at KBMS at which superintendent John Green announced the system would not pursue the 6th Grade plan.
Green and other school leaders gave a brief slide presentation to the crowd of mostly West Jackson parents about the dilemma the system faces in trying to plan for growth. The system now has an enrollment of 7,535 students and overall capacity for 8,340.
But that capacity is skewed toward having more classrooms on the slow-growing East side and not enough classrooms on the faster-growing West side. The East side of the county has a capacity of 4,375 with an enrollment of 3,620. Projections indicate growth on the East side won’t fill that capacity until 2026.
On the other hand, the fast-growing West side has a capacity of just 3,965 with enrollment of 3,915 and will exceed its capacity next year.
One of the problems with this imbalance, Green told the crowd, is that the system has to fill 100 percent of all its classrooms before it can qualify for any of its earned state building funds, which at this point is $12 million. Without those funds, the system will have to pay for facility additions out of local funds.
A dozen or so members of the crowd asked questions or made comments at the meeting. Although mostly cordial, many of those who spoke said they didn’t support having students on the West side moved to an East side school because of the distance and cost of gas. Several parents of KBMS students said they didn’t want that school disrupted and those students moved to another school in the area.
One woman in the crowd shouted to Green that he was “trying to cram this down our throats.” Green responded by saying that the system had been very open in its discussions about its facilities problem and had been actively soliciting community input.
“We’re not cramming anything down your throat,” he said.
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