PALATKA, Fla. – The Putnam County School District last week proposed an aggressive plan to “revitalize” school facilities in the county.
School officials propose closing down five schools -- two of them more than 75 years old -- in Putnam County at the end of the current school year and build nine new schools over the next 10 years. There are 18 total schools in the district.
“By rightsizing the district and eliminating excessive buildings, PCSD would qualify for special facilities funding from the state to construct new state-of-the-art facilities,” the district said in a press release.
The proposal would require a bond referendum that would have to be approved by the school board.
The goal is to consolidate and build safer and more energy-efficient schools.
The proposal got mixed reactions on social media. Some said the plan would allow the district to replace older buildings in the county and prepare for growth. Others said closing the schools and consolidating would lead to issues.
Superintendent Richard Surrency during a meeting Thursday said the plan could be concerning in the beginning, but would ultimately be celebrated.
“It is a challenge for our school district with a lack of financial resources to compete with our neighboring school districts,” Surrency said during a presentation. “Board members we have the opportunity to impact our current students, as well as generations to come. You will see today the opportunity to provide new school facilities that will keep our students safer and provide 21st Century opportunities to better prepare our students in alignment with the district’s developing strategic plan.”
According to the district, Putnam County has more schools currently than other Florida schools with similar enrollment. Flagler County, for example, has 2,200 more students than Putnam County but half as many schools.
The district said because it is funding its maintenance department with capital funds, it is unable to renovate existing facilities, build new facilities or apply for Special Facilities funding.
In the first year of the proposed plan, the district would close George C. Miller Middle School, Robert H. Jenkins Jr. Middle School, Mellon Elementary School, Eleanor H. Miller School and Melrose Elementary School and move students to other schools in the district. In Phase 2, with a referendum, the district would build three 7-12 schools over the next five years. In years 6-10, the district would then build six Pre-K through 6 schools.
Miller Middle School and Melrose Elementary were built in 1928 and 1946, respectively. Those schools were described by the district as “money pits.”
A small group of parents was outside Melrose Elementary last week to protest the potential changes, WCJB reported.
Here’s just a few of the protestors outside of Melrose Elementary fighting for what they call a staple in the community. I’ll tell you the one Putnam County School board plan they oppose at 5 and 6. @WCJB20 pic.twitter.com/nqIcgxfp0Q— Ruelle Fludd (@ruellefluddnews) January 8, 2021
The district also said it is facing declining student enrollment which may ultimately lead to a reduction in the workforce, made worse by superior wages and benefits in surrounding districts.
The district says plans to have community meetings, possibly virtual, in the future to get feedback on the plan.
The school board is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday but the plan is not on the agenda.
Surrency told News4Jax the board is planning a workshop on Feb. 10 and the board will vote for possible approval on Feb. 16.