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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Bibb County school board may hire a consultant to study potential school closures

Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
The Bibb County Board of Education met June 11, 2024, for a special called meeting and for its first public hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget. No one signed up to speak during the hearing.

Two years after the Bibb County Board of Education committed to taking a hard look at potential school closures to cut costs, Superintendent Dan Sims said he plans to propose paying a consultant to help make those decisions.

At a public hearing for the 2025 budget Tuesday night, at-large school board member Daryl Morton asked Sims for a status update on where the district is in the process of studying potential school closures.

The district sought quotes from educational consultants in early March and received at least one bid by the closing date in April, according to the district’s procurement portal.

“We’ll bring a recommendation with that direction at our next board meeting, if not, then the July board meeting, to start the process, whether that would be internal or external support,” Sims said, adding that it may be February when recommendations for decision-making are brought to the board. “It will roll right into the FY 26 budget planning and subsequent decision making.”

Morton said he was aware of the request for proposals and wanted to know whether the district received any responses.

“We did get a response to it – and that’s when I have these one-on-ones with each board member,” Sims said, noting his meetings with individual board members before each board meeting. “Based on that, and based on feedback I got from you, we’ll bring a recommendation to the board at the appropriate time.”

Morton asked if the district selected any consultant to recommend for the job.

“Yes, sir,” Sims said. “It is one of the considerations. My job as superintendent is to take information to you and get recommendations and feedback from you, which I have done, and that’s been used to go back to the drawing board to consider other potential scenarios.”

“But that’s all under the concern that we want to make sure that whatever we do, we do it in such a way that it is objective, that it involves a thorough analysis … We want to make sure that however we do it, it’s done in such a way that suspends bias, that engages the community and it has a thorough analysis of all of our related data.”

Morton asked if the consultant provided a price for its services. Sims replied it was “in the area of $200,000.”

“I understand that somehow the community found out about it and I know there’s a concern as it relates to the large amount of money, and we recognize that, but we also recognize that whatever we do is an investment into a consolidation, which will end up being a much more significant savings,” he said.

The district’s procurement portal is publicly accessible online, but information about consultants who submitted proposals is not available on the website.

Potential school closures have been a sporadic topic of conversation in board meetings since May 2022, when former superintendent Curtis Jones told the board, “I don’t see a way around it.”

The school district has too many school buildings and too few students, an imbalance that costs the district more local tax dollars to operate. The state will not pay for certain positions at schools where enrollment falls below its minimum threshold. The district has 18 schools, including the VIP virtual academy, that have enrollment below the state’s threshold.

Last year, the district estimated closing one school could save $1.5 to $2 million yearly.

The 2025 budget includes a deficit of $9.3 million, which the district will have to make up by either dipping into its reserve funds or raising taxes.

Board member Juawn Jackson asked school department heads to come speak at the podium about how low pay is affecting morale.

The budget includes raises for all employees, but specific employees in the central office will get significant pay bumps in an apparent departure from the incremental salary increases normally paid to employees.

The school board’s next monthly meeting is set for Thursday at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in the Professional Learning Center at 2003 Riverside Drive.

The second budget hearing for the fiscal year 2025 budget is set for 3 p.m. on June 20 in the Professional Learning Center.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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