By C.V. Moore
A steering committee charged with overseeing a community input process on the needs of school buildings in Fayette County is under some intense time pressure.
It aims to float a bond before the public this fall that would keep all schools in the county open and serve as matching funds for a request to the School Building Authority for two new elementary schools.
To meet the December SBA deadline, the bond must be presented to the state in July and put before the public in late fall.
School personnel are still gathering data on the physical needs of the schools with a goal of having all facilities reviewed by May 6, when the state superintendent, James Phares, is scheduled to come to Fayette County for meetings with citizens and the local board.
It is also still trying to formulate a way to poll the public during the input process through an independent media company. They will be trying to gauge public sentiment on a cap for the bond and other issues related to school buildings.
This polling, too, will be limited by tight deadlines and cost up to $25,000.
The steering committee — composed of the superintendent, two associate superintendents, two Meadow Bridge citizens and a state liaison — met Tuesday.
It continued to refine the makeup of the county facilities advisory committee, a group of representatives from each school that will eventually decide what to include in the bond.
It decided that one student Local School Improvement Council (LSIC) representative from each high school, plus Fayette Institute of Technology, will now also serve on the advisory committee.
That’s in addition to the principal, LSIC chair and a community representative from each of the county’s 18 schools, meaning the committee will have 60 members.
It scaled back the time commitment for members, meaning the group will not be visiting every school in the county over several Saturdays to see for themselves the state of the school buildings district-wide.
Instead, committee members will receive school profiles with information about enrollment, attendance, academic achievement and facility details.
That means the committee members won’t have an opportunity to experience the climate of each school, the oldest of which dates to 1923.
At least one community meeting will be held at each school between May 6 and 17.
Committee member Carolyn Arritt pushed the group to better define how the school committees will work, what is being asked of them and how to get the word out to the community about meetings.
The group agreed to ask for two prioritized lists from each school — one of needs to bring the building into compliance, plus a wish list of desired facility improvements.
Each school’s list will be taken to the full county facility advisory committee. They are tasked with combining the lists into one, which will become the basis of the bond. Only one meeting is scheduled to do this.
Leon Ivey — a school board member who is not on the steering committee but who has attended each meeting — asked whether public meetings will be held before the draft bond they create is finalized and brought to the state.
Many in the group agreed these should be worked into the timeframe, though how to fit it all in is still a question.
Committee member Paul McClung said while he has heard good feedback about the “fair and balanced” nature of the input process, there are also “a lot of negative thoughts (...) that we are disingenuous” and that passing a bond will eventually lead to consolidation anyway. He hoped the steering committee could “do something to remove the gloom and doom” he’s been hearing.
Superintendent Keith Butcher replied that receiving “honest feedback” and creating “a process that is fair that allows for equal, unbiased input” is the strongest way to move forward.
Ivey said that at the end of the day he’ll be looking at the facts and figures of what it will cost to maintain all current facilities.
“If we ask the public to pass a bond and then we’re back in the same situation in eight or nine years, we’re not going to be able to go back to the citizens with any faith or trust,” he said.
Even if the public rejects the idea of keeping all schools open, they will have a “good snapshot of where our facilities are,” said Butcher. That snapshot, to a great extent, is already available in the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP), which is updated yearly.
Curriculum was not discussed in the meeting.
The steering committee meets again next week to discuss the facilities review, the poll, the advisory committee’s role, and community feedback meetings.
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