Superintendent delivers update on Decatur County schools

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Decatur County Schools Superintendent Tim Cochran gave an update on the state of the school system at Rotary Tuesday.

He began by addressing the 7.5 percent decline in enrollment the system has seen over the last seven and one-half years. As the state funding to the schools is based on enrollment, the result is a decline in funding. The state funds that were at 80 percent are now 60 to 65 percent; and 25 to 30 percent comes from local government/taxes. Cochran notes, “State funding will continue to decrease if enrollment continues to fall.” This presents many budget challenges to the school system, but Cochran points out they are planning ahead to meet the future

There has also been a decline in the number of employees since 2009, when there were 882. In October 2017, that number was 758, yet the system is seeing an increase in the cost of benefits—healthcare and retirement funds.

Email newsletter signup

Another area of concern is looking at ways to save money on buildings and maintenance. Currently the system is maintaining five different administrative offices, which is not efficient. Cochran said all will be merged into the old West Bainbridge Middle School campus. Many of the system buildings are 50 plus years old, and in need of continued maintenance. As the state funds renovations based on needs, the school system is looking at excess of unnecessary classrooms. For that reason they are considering closing the Elcan King Elementary School. He cited the following figures: Elementary schools have 197 classrooms, while the need is for 115. The Middle Schools have 121 classrooms and only need 86. Although the new high school building has 100 classrooms and needs 74, he does not see that as a problem.

“It is the old buildings that kill you if you have extra space and need to renovate them to operate.” The high school has 1450 students with the cost for heat, electric/water averaging a cost of $233.36 per child. Bainbridge MIddle School has a cost of $505.82 per student. “We need to have a plan. We can’t wait until it is time to do something.” Maintenance requires  a long-range vision.

In spite of all the challenges, there is good news to report from the high school..

Cochran said the five-year accreditation was recently completed at BHS, and received what he called “glowing reviews.”  Of the 31 standards, BHS exceeded in 22 of them and there were zero mentions of “needs improvement.” This is practically unheard of according to Cochran.

He also stated pleasure in the graduation rate of students, which in 2017 was 91 percent, up from 72 percent in 2012. The state average is 80 percent. He attributed the success to the hard work of all the staff, in spite of this being one of the highest poverty areas in Southwest Georgia.

“We are working with programs that tie with industries so we can produce kids for the jobs that are here and coming.”

In closing, he mentioned that a group  Pataula Charter School is looking to possibly expand to Decatur County. More details on that will be covered by The Post Searchlight after the public meeting scheduled for March 20 at the Kirbo Center.