While students were on summer break, the Athens City School District Board of Education held numerous meetings to discuss ideas for how to address issues with schools in the district.
The Athens City School District Facilities Steering Committee has proposed three options for the board to consider regarding how to repair the high school, middle school and elementary school buildings. Each one has the sixth grade joining the middle school, but they all differ in their approach to elementary level buildings, including an option to have the elementary school be on a single campus with three buildings.
“We're trying to get across the idea that some of our main buildings would need so much repair that it's better to build new buildings,” Roger Brown, the president of the board, said. “We're going to catch a lot of flak no matter what we do, but we are all working for the best of the kids.”
According to the steering committee, there is a rule called the two-thirds rule imposed by the state, which says that “if a building renovation cost more than two-thirds the cost of new construction, the building would be recommended for replacement.”
Currently, three of the four elementary schools and Athens High School are above the two-thirds threshold, meaning the only way the state would fund construction is if the district completely rebuilt those school buildings.
OU has offered to donate a section of The Ridges to the district to use for the single campus solution for elementary schools, according to various members of the board. The specific section of The Ridges was not clarified.
Rusty Rittenhouse, the vice president of the board, said he views the fact that most of these buildings would have to be new buildings as an opportunity to address long-standing problems in the community such as socio-economic segregation. The opportunity to address those long-standing problems is one reason he supports the single campus solution.
The percentage of economically disadvantaged students at the various elementary schools is about 28 percent with one outlier, according to a chart used by the steering committee. The largest gap noticed by Rittenhouse is that the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at East Elementary is about 21 percent, while The Plains Elementary has nearly 77 percent of their students considered to be economically disadvantaged.
Chris Gerig, a member of the board, said one of the reasons he was in support of the single campus was because of the support of the teachers’ union.
“The teachers’ union has overwhelmingly endorsed the single campus,” Geirig said. “That was a big driver on my own part.”
Gerig said if the school board chooses the single campus solution, he thinks the board needs to make sure there would be enough room and that the facility would be able to accommodate the school’s programming.
Kim Goldsberry, a member of the board, still does not think consolidation is the best way to go. She would like more questions about logistics to be answered before she can fully support the plan.
“I feel like if we can get the kids together before seventh grade that would have the best outcome,” Goldsberry said.
She wants Athens residents to know that what the board is considering is not a mega school.
“The conversation was always a single campus but with multiple buildings, but social media took the coin mega school and ran with it,” Goldsberry said. “It worked. They did a good job.”
Several board members said the board has hired a communication firm that will work to better educate residents of Athens so they are aware of what the board is considering.
Regarding moving sixth grade into the middle school, Goldsberry said she wants to ensure the middle school building will be large enough and that they are able to work out the logistics.
The board has seemed to pretty much agree on tearing down part of the high school and rebuild, Brown said.
He said that the board is going to try to get the consolidation issue on the earliest ballot possible.
“A lot depends on how things are going,” Brown said. “Right now, we're trying to get something decided by October so that it can be on either the November or March ballot.”