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School board reviews plans, takes no action

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By Lisa King

The Shelby County Board of Education heard discussion Thursday night concerning enrollment projections and how they relate to the District Facility Plan but ultimately took no action. At its meeting on Aug. 26, the board had asked Superintendent James Neihof to review the historical accuracy of enrollment projections, which the board had used in August to approve the 4-year facilities plan that had been recommended. But with the head count for the start of the school year coming in slightly below projections, board members wanted to review those projections and plans carefully before taking another step. Neihof told the board Thursday that the predictions were revealed to be “99 percent accurate.” He said some schools are beyond the 85 percent student capacity figure and do not have space to hold more classes. “Clear Creek is using six storage areas for small, pull-out class rooms, and Simpsonville is using one classroom to house several groups,” he said, likening the situation to the one-room schoolhouse of old. He added that Southside and Wright elementary schools also have several classes at capacity.  “We are well beyond our eighty-five percent capacity rate,” he said. He said that that the timetable for the next new elementary school, a 600-student facility planned to be adjacent to Collins High School on Discovery Boulevard, would put all elementary schools at 81 percent capacity. The facilities plan also calls for a 450-capacity school at Southside, which currently houses 378 students. Because that is only an increase of 72 students, Neihof raised the question of whether that capacity should be raised to 600 students as well. “Although my heart tells me we need to build at Southside first, since it is our oldest operational school, based on our best available information…I concur that building a six-hundred-capacity elementary school on Discovery Boulevard, as approved by the board on August 12, is the correct next step.” At that meeting, the board approved the first step of a building plan, but has yet to hire and architect or make any decisions about the school. While discussing the need of a new school Thursday, board members also discussed facility plan timelines, use of classroom space and ways of being more economical with school funding and resources. “We have to be careful not to become over-extended,” board member Sam Hinkle said. Board member Allen Phillips concurred. “It is time for us to gear down economically,” he said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to the do the best job that we can.” While the board continues to be wary of state funding for the 2011-12 school year because of questions with the state budget, the general fund does not have to be used for building the new school. The building fund is held separate from the general fund, and cannot be used for anything other than construction and renovation of schools. The district must also complete new construction based on the District Facility Plan before using building fund monies on school renovation projects at older schools.