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Marietta City Schools officials mulling input from community

MARIETTA — After a public meeting and the opening of a web portal for Marietta residents to submit comments, the Marietta City Schools board of education is coming up to a decision point on how the district will be structured in the fall.

Shrinking the building space for instruction is nearly inevitable, but the process is complex and unlikely to satisfy all the expectations of parents, students, taxpayers and school staff. With enrollment in the six-building system at just more than 2,500 students — it was built to handle an enrollment of more than 4,000 — the district administration has come up with a series of options to close buildings, save operating and maintenance expenses and advance its educational goals.

Those options were presented at a public meeting Monday night, along with an invitation to the city to offer any further suggestions. Superintendent Will Hampton said afterward the views of the public, both those presented at the meeting and those received through a dedicated email account, would be compiled and submitted to the board.

The board will hold a special meeting Wednesday night to mull the ideas.

Board president Doug Mallett said Friday he had reviewed the information received to date.

“We got a lot of input. In some of it, it was obviously people who don’t have all the facts, but there were others who where really boring into the data,” he said. “There’s not really a consensus on anything.”

The options offered by administrators, after consulting with operations personnel, teachers and other stakeholders, ranged from closing two of the district’s four elementary schools to closing the middle school and redistributing the grade six to eight students, with several interim possibilities.

Closing Marietta Middle School — a 129,000 square foot structure dating back to 1926 and situated on 27 acres — extending the four elementary schools to sixth grade, and adding the seventh and eighth grades to Marietta High School is projected to save the district about $400,000 a year in operating and staffing costs but would continue the problem of class size and resource imbalance in the elementary grades.

Another option would reconfigure the middle school to a grade 4-7 building, add grade 8 to the high school, close two elementary schools and set up the remaining two as K-3 buildings. Projected annual savings on that option are $750,000, and it would be a better fit for the district’s elementary strategy, but Hampton wondered aloud how parents might respond to the idea of having grades 4-7 in one building. A slightly modified option would place grades 7 and 8 at the high school, three to six in the middle school, and K-2 in two elementaries, with savings of $800,000 a year.

A fourth option would close the middle school, move grades 7 and 8 to the high school, conduct K-2 in two elementaries and 3-6 in the other two, saving about $650,000 a year.

A fifth would close one elementary and move grade five to the middle school, with savings of about $230,000.

Any of the options that involve moving both grades 7 and 8 to the high school would require the installation of portable buildings, a cost not included in the estimates because it would be paid from the permanent improvement fund, not the general operating fund. Any that involve keeping the middle school open are expected to involve significant renovation costs. The district is waiting on an engineering report to determine what the cost might be, but treasurer Frank Antill noted at Monday’s meeting that the building needs a new roof, which “very conservatively” would cost at least $700,000.

Aside from the financial considerations, the district is attempting to configure its buildings to meet educational goals.

“You can’t ignore the finances, but that’s just one part of it,” Mallett said. “There are some positive things, like the potential for grade banding in the early grades.”

One of the challenges the district has faced is the uneven distribution of students and resources in its four elementary schools. Class sizes are out of balance in many of the schools, and personnel such as counselors, specialty teachers and others have to move around the four campuses, a situation that lessens their effectiveness.

Board vice president Russ Garrison said he’s reviewed the public input as well.

“I think there’s a good appreciation of the need for a change, but there’s a level of confusion about the work we’re doing now, to consolidate without spending significant amounts of permanent improvement money, because a fair amount of the comments address what they want from a long term plan if we spend a bunch of money,” he said. “Right now, the question is what do we do while living within the means of the $2.75 million in permanent improvement funds — which also has to pay for things like buses and curriculum — and our operating funds.”

Garrison said much of the concern expressed about the options being considered was addressed toward different mixes of age levels, such as fourth to seventh grade in one option as an intermediate school, or having seventh graders in the same building as upper grade students.

“We’ve also gotten several more options that people have suggested that are slightly different than those Will presented, so there will be a couple more to stick in the mix,” he said.

The board intends to evaluate the public input at the Wednesday meeting and, Mallett said, expects to make a decision on the fall configuration at the regular monthly board meeting Feb. 24.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

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If You Go…

* What: Special meeting, Marietta City Schools board of education

* When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

* Where: Marietta High School cafeteria

* For info: https://bit.ly/2uSxMRb

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