The Putnam County School District is slowly beginning to implement its revitalization plan, voted on in February. The plan calls for the closure of several schools at the end of this school year, with the hope that new ones will be built in the future.
One of the most compelling factors of the plan: no teachers will be laid off – an original point of concern for many.
“We’re doing this to take care of our people, not hurt anybody,” said Putnam County Associate Superintendent Thomas Bolling.
While it’s true that the reduction in schools at the end of this school year would leave the district with a surplus of staff relative to its facilities, Bolling said the district is adamant about not jeopardizing any jobs. Instead, it will use the natural process of attrition to gradually arrive at its ideal size in workforce. As teachers retire or seek jobs elsewhere, the district will be able to fully assess the complete scope of savings the revitalization plan will have brought about, he said.
“I’m excited about this work because we’re doing it not only to just improve our district overall and have better schools, but we also were rightsizing,” he said. “I look forward to the day when we can offer our teachers higher salaries – or not just teachers but all of our employees.”
But while the plan is already inching forward, new schools are not guaranteed to be built.
Bolling said that the act of closing schools alone will place the school district in a much healthier financial position. However, building new schools all depends on the district’s ability to secure special facilities funding from the state. Consolidating schools was necessary to qualify for these funds, he said.
“We really hope that happens and we’re working very hard to make that happen, but this was a very big first step and it’s a step in a positive direction,” he said.
So far, no contractor has been hired for the job, and won’t be for a few years, he said. The district originally worked with an architectural firm to survey the condition of its buildings and to obtain guidance moving forward with its revitalization plan.
Teachers at closing schools have had a considerable say in their destiny going forward, according to Bolling. They were able to request what school they wanted to move to, and this was given a higher weighting than student need, he said.
“If it was an easy fit, if we could give them their desired location, we did,” he said.
If a teacher isn’t satisfied with their placement for the next academic year, they can put their name on a transfer list.
“If you’re a district employee you’re pretty much guaranteed an interview for the desired school you want to go,” he said.
The district is now beginning to roll out moving procedures to the schools that are closing and has hired a moving company. Staff are working out the logistics of what furniture is going where, including how many boxes each teacher needs for the move.
Not every teacher has their plan for next year figured out, though.
“Right now, we’re just chugging along, just completing testing,” said a teacher from Jenkins Middle School, who requested their name not be used for job protection. “But personally, you know, I’m not necessarily sure what I’m going to do next school year. I’m just keeping my options open.”
The quick turnaround has proved trying for some.
“I’ve talked to a couple of teachers, and we all thought that we would leave out the rest of our teaching careers at Jenkins,” the teacher said.