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Some new schools may not open
District considers delaying debut of two facilities
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County school officials are mulling the what-ifs of possibly not opening two of five new schools slated for the 2009-10 academic year.

The Board of Education heard from staff members on Thursday about finances and the staffing and construction of facilities.

"In light of economic issues and budget constraints we've been hearing about in the last few days, and probably will hear a lot more, we want to present information that will be helpful to the board," said Mary Harwell, associate superintendent of teaching and learning.

Chief facilities and operations officer Robert Sewell told the board that all five schools under construction, which include three elementary, one middle and one high school, "are either on schedule or ahead of schedule for opening August 2009."

Sewell cautioned the board about some of the problems with not opening Brookwood Elementary School and Lakeside Middle. For instance, the district would lose the contractor's warranty on the construction of the two schools.

"We get a one-year across-the-board warranty from the contractor that covers basically anything. It starts the day we're accepted for occupancy," Sewell said. "We would have to absorb any repairs on the maintenance budget."

Sewell said if the district did not open Brookwood and Lakeside, the number of trailers would still be reduced, from 163 to 84. But if all schools were opened, the number would drop to 63.

Candy Norton, director of human resources, told the board that fewer school openings would mean more students per school and would require more staff positions within each school "as if you'd opened the other buildings."

As an example, Norton offered: "Generally, in a building with 700 students you would have less infrastructure to support them than you would with 1,500 in one school, exclusive of teachers."

Dan Jones, the school district's chief financial officer, told the board the issue was worth consideration.

"Schools are there, ready for occupancy," Jones said.

"Do we put some of these kids in trailers or permanent buildings? Cost is a big item. I think we can assume there won't be any raises for teachers next year. That's not a secret."

Board member Mike Dudgeon calculated that by not opening two of the five schools, it would be about a $2.5 million savings in personnel, factoring in the cost of maintaining school trailers.

Jones looked to the bottom line.

"When we put the budget together, it's probably going to be an increase in local dollars that's required to do this," he said. "We knew that going in when we had those buildings out there ready for construction."

The board took no action, but plans to revisit the issue at Thursday's meeting. It was not clear what, if any, affect a potential delay could have on redistricting for next school year.