MCSD votes to close neighborhood school

By Laura Ann Sills - email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Like school systems all over the state, the Muscogee County School Board has to cut millions of dollars from its budget.  Monday night, the Board voted to save almost $350,000 by closing Benning Hills Elementary.  The School will merge with Muscogee Elementary.

The decision has the community in south Columbus upset to lose their neighborhood school.

Donna Spurlin has a long history with Benning Hills Elementary; three generations have called the school home.  Her granddaughter is about to finish up kindergarten.  She said, "Now we have to tell her that she is not going to be able to go to Benning Hills, and that she is not going to Paw Paw's school.  My husband went there, my children went there, and now my grandchildren are there.  And, it is not just us, there are all kinds of generations in these hills that are alumni."

Spurlin sees the community growing, but worries that taking away their neighborhood school will stop that.  "We have got military families moving in here into these neighborhoods that like the idea of having a school right there, now what do we tell them? Are they going to start moving out because we are not going to have a school here," asked Spurlin.

School Board representatives explain they ca not take families moving in for BRAC into consideration until they enroll in school.  "Those students who are moving are not here yet, so we do not receive funding yet for them till they are physically in a seat," explained Valerie Fuller, Muscogee County School Board.

Fuller says there are no easy choices when facing a million dollar deficit, but in this case, consolidation makes the most sense.

Even with the school closing Spurlin says she will continue her fight to keep it open.  "There is a lot of other schools that are just as small as ours that are not making the grade and they could have considered them."

Spurlin credits the location of the school and prejudice for the decision, "Seeing how we live in the wrong side of town, it was much easier to do it that way. It seems like since we are in South Columbus that we are not as important, that is the message we are getting."

Fuller says the location of the school did not play into the decision at all.  The School Board chose Benning Hills and Muscogee Elementary schools for the merger due to the low enrolment at both.  They are not receiving enough funding to keep a full-time Principal, Media Specialist, and Counselor.

News Leader Nine is told the building will not be torn down, but the Superintendent is still carefully considering what should be done with the building.

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