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Cochran lays out ideas for saving school system money in long run

Decatur County Superintendent Tim Cochran updated the Decatur County Board of Commissioners Tuesday on the state of the school system and future plans, including ideas for rezoning, downsizing facilities and relocating central offices to the old West Bainbridge Elementary School building.

“We have central offices spread out across five different buildings,” Cochran said. “That’s not efficient. That’s going on and you will see that start happening this year.”

Cochran said he hopes to have the central offices consolidated in the new location within 12-24 months.

The number of employees have decreased over the past eight years. In 2009, the school system employed 882. In October, the headcount was 758.

“That is substantial,” Griffin said. “That’s a lot of jobs. You’ve had a reduction in both of those. It’s not just in teaching jobs, but it’s bus drivers, cafeteria. It just is another impact of our community.”

Employment is not the only number that’s dropping. Enrollment is too, and state funding will decrease if it continues to fall.

With Cochran looking for ways the school system can save money without raising the millage rate, something he was confident wouldn’t happen, he presented that money could be saved by taking a closer look at how facilities are used. Specifically, the schools themselves.

Currently, every school in Decatur County has more space than the system needs, Cochran said. The State of Georgia doesn’t cover anything that is overage, so Cochran and the Board of Education are exploring ways to eliminate excess to create potential savings down the road.

Across five elementary schools, there are 197 classrooms. According to Cochran, we only need 115.

This becomes an issue if Decatur County ever decided to build a new elementary school. Because the state funds school systems based on usage per classroom, it would see Decatur County doesn’t have a need.

“When you’re losing students, at some point you have more classrooms than kids to put in them,” Cochran said. “Buildings are not cheap. We earn facility money based off need. When you have bunch of empty classrooms, it reduces the amount of facility money we earn to renovate, build and do things with our facilities, not to mention utility costs.”

Per student, Decatur County spends $505.82 per year at Bainbridge Middle School. It’s $294.15 per year, per student at Potter Street Elementary and $228.47 per year, per student at Elcan-King Elementary.

Across the two middle schools, there are 121 classrooms. Only 86 of them are needed. At Bainbridge High School, 75 of the 100 classrooms are needed. However, BHS is not an issue because Decatur County won’t have to build a new high school anytime soon. The current BHS was constructed in 2011.

Cochran said Elcan-King Elementary, Potter Street Elementary and Bainbridge Middle School are the three schools that have the most need at the moment, and the schools the Board of Education will be taking a closer look at moving forward.

“Space is great, if you can afford it,” Cochran added “So we have to determine how much more we can pay for space that we technically do not have to have.”

Despite falling enrollment, extra space and state funding slipping, Cochran is very proud of the work the faculty and staff are doing in the Decatur County School System.

The accreditation review team from AdvancEd, who reviews internal documents and interviews system leaders, board members, teachers, parents and community members, also interview students. According to Cochran 36 out of the 59 students AdvancEd interviewed said their school experiences are positive and every day is a good day for learning.

“That’s huge,” Cochran said. “We have no idea which kids they picked, they just randomly pull a kid. That’s really good and something I am very proud of.”