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CMS Saves $0 From Closing Schools In First Year

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http://66.225.205.104/LM20110830.mp3

On the last day of school students at Bishop Spaugh Middle School, one of the 11 closed by CMS, were treated to a special celebration. In a year of controversy, the CMS board's decision to close 11 schools last year was perhaps the most controversial. The public was told the action would save money. And, in the long-term, that's still expected to be the case. But the first-year savings have fallen far short of what CMS administrators projected. In fact, there weren't any savings at all. Closing schools comes with a cost. For one, other schools need upgrades to accommodate the new students. Back in May school board member Joyce Waddell took a look at these rising construction costs and asked: "Is this exceeding the projection for savings in our school closures? As we look at our entire budget are we spending more when we close schools?" Waddell didn't get a straight answer that night partly because not all the bills were in. Before the board approved the closings last November, CMS staff projected a $10 million savings over two years. About $3.5 million of that savings would come in the first year because of the upfront construction costs. At that time, school board chairman Eric Davis said that savings would help retain teachers at risk of losing their jobs in 2011 because of expected budget cuts. "We can either choose to continue to operate buildings that aren't full, that don't have all the classrooms utilitized, which, in turn, will cause us to lay off more teachers. Or we can do the hard work we're doing now," said Davis. But now the bills are in and those first-year savings didn't occur. In fact, CMS wound up paying $300,000. So what happened? Construction costs came in higher than expected. Principals asked for some additional upgrades to handle older students. For example, two new science labs as opposed to one. And there was a $695,000 cost of moving mobile classrooms to some of those schools so they could handle the extra kids. The cost of mobile classrooms wasn't included in CMS estimates. Davis assumed they were. But he says it's still a good investment to secure future savings. "We're saving the amount we projected which is right around $5 million," says Davis. That's right. CMS is still expected to save $5.2 million this fiscal year which began in July. But that's because the district paid for all the construction and costs to re-locate mobile classrooms out of last year's budget. "Essentially that was one-time money last year that we didn't want to use for a recurring basis. So it was the perfect use for one-time money, use it for one-time expenses," says Davis. "What that enabled us to do was then increase the benefit this school year of the savings." Most of the savings comes from cutting administrative staff, including a number of assistant principals. Also, the district doesn't have to pay for utilities at those schools. School board member Tom Tate says he wishes the projections were closer to reality. "But I'm not sad that we're saving $5.2 million a year going forward and I trust now that the decisions we made for the education of these kids, that these are going to be better opportunities for them than they would've had otherwise," says Tate. He believes the eight newly-created pre-k through 8 schools will be better places for kids to learn. We'll have to wait and see if that prediction turns out to be true. .