Anniston’s school board took a step toward closure of Tenth Street Elementary School Thursday, but school Superintendent Ray Hill said the board hasn’t made a final decision on the matter.
“We’ve got to survey parents, students and community members,” Hill said at a board meeting at Anniston Middle School.
Hill earlier this month floated the idea of closing one of the city’s schools, with Tenth Street, he said, the likeliest candidate. A school board agenda, released last week, stated that the board would discuss “approval to close Tenth Street Elementary” at Thursday’s meeting, as well as approval of a “reduction in force,” which usually means staff layoffs.
By Thursday, the agenda had changed. Board members approved a motion to “start the process” of closure of Tenth Street, which Hill said would involve consultations with the community and work with the court system. City schools are still under a court order in the legal case that desegregated the school system, and major changes to schools often require a judge’s permission.
School leaders have talked about closing or consolidating schools for years. The city’s population has been in decline since the closure of the Army’s Fort McClellan more than 20 years ago. Anniston now operates three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a separate pre-K and kindergarten facility for fewer than 1,800 students.
The school system has also faced financial difficulties in past years, and school leaders are now working toward building up the one-month reserve of funds the state requires. School board president Robert Houston said school consolidation will help fix that problem.
“We’ve been talking about this for a number of years,” Houston said. “And one of the reasons we’ve not been able to get our reserve is that we have too many buildings.”
Tenth Street, opened in 1954, is the smallest school in the system, with 290 students, according to school board numbers.
Houston said that maintaining a building is only 15 to 20 percent of the cost of operating a school, while personnel costs make up much of the rest. Even so, school board members stepped back from a “reduction in force” vote Thursday, voting instead to make the matter a discussion item.
Hill said it’s still not clear how many positions the school system would need to eliminate to cut the costs it needs to cut. He said attrition — not filling the positions of retiring or departing teachers — is the preferred option, though he said “tough decisions” would have to be made as well.
“I’m saying there are going to be some hurt feelings,” Hill said.
Hill said he’s not sure when the school closure would come up for a final vote.
“It seems like every 10 years we look at this,” said board member Joan Frazier. Frazier, a former superintendent of the school system, said closure of Tenth Street came up in 2001 and 2011.
Some parents at the school are skeptical of the closure proposal.
“I say no, don’t close it,” said Dacia Wilson, one of several parents who waited in the pick-up line at Tenth Street Wednesday afternoon. “I went to school here when I was in elementary. It’s a good school.”