Leaders of the Jackson County School System told a crowd of over 200 people Thursday night that the system doesn’t plan to pursue a 6th Grade academy school in the coming year.
“We’re not doing the 6th Grade center at Kings Bridge Middle School,” superintendent John Green said at a community meeting held at KBMS Thursday evening following the regular board of education meeting.
Green said exactly how the system will address overcrowding at West Jackson Middle School next year hasn’t been decided, but that parents would be made aware of that as soon as some kind of decision was made in the coming weeks.
School leaders will host a second community meeting Monday night at 7 p.m. at East Jackson Comprehensive High School.
The system has floated several ideas about ways it could better make use of empty classroom space on the East side of the county to relive overcrowding on the West side. One of those ideas was to build a special 6th Grade school at the current KBMS facility and try to lure some incoming 6th Grade students at the overcrowded West Jackson Middle School to that new setting. That would take pressure off of WJMS, which has five trailers this year and plans to add five more if something isn’t done to relive the overcrowding.
But geographically, the Kings Bridge facility is 15 miles away from WJMS and many parents did not support the idea, even though school leaders said it would have been a voluntary system.
The reason the system is now looking for a solution is because it has to soon issue contracts for teachers for the 2013-2014 school year and make other plans, Green said.
Thursday night, 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.