by Mel Griffith
The education committee of the Bradley County Commission has been hard at work planning for the needs of the school system. The Commission and School Board have both identified the completion of work on Ocoee Middle School as their top priority. The Commission has also identified long-range planning in all areas as a priority. In the area of education, growth in elementary enrollment will need to be a major focus of long-range planning.
The education committee was actually at work on both these before their adoption by the Commission at its recent work session. The committee has requested and received information from the School Board about both Ocoee Middle School and about the current state of the elementary schools. It is important to have accurate factual information in both areas. For example, the amount of money that can be spent on Ocoee Middle School may be impacted by the need to spend money on future elementary needs. It is likely that needs for additional information will develop as further study is given to school needs. Some questions previously asked about school zones seem to have caused concern among some people. This information is important because if additional space is to be provided in the future, it is necessary to know where it can be added. For this reason, it is important to know whether a particular school is full of students from its zone or if many come from other zones. It is particularly important to know how many students from outside the district are attending Bradley County schools because these students attend on a space-available basis and increases in enrollment may require that some of these students be displaced by students from within the district. It should be noted that school zones are entirely the responsibility of the school board and the Commission has nothing to do with them. However, since the Commission is asked for funds it is important for the education committee and the full Commission to fully understand the school system's situation and plans.
After years of insisting that a twenty-six classroom addition to Ocoee Middle School was necessary in order for it to accommodate 1200 students, a spokesman for the system said in the November 17 Cleveland Daily Banner that the addition actually brought the school's capacity to 1500 students. His solution to the excess capacity is to tear down part of the existing building. He admits that it will cost about as much to tear it down as it would to repair it. The reason he gave for tearing it down was that it is an "eyesore." That is a matter of opinion. Assuming he is right, is it reasonable for the taxpayers to have spent several hundred thousand dollars just to get rid of an alleged "eyesore"? What section of the SAT covers the looks of the building you were educated in? The 26 classrooms in the new addition should provide space for about 780 students. Since this is room for 300 more students than is needed, it should have only been necessary to provide space for 480 students, or 16 classrooms. Reducing the addition by 10 classrooms would have saved several hundred thousand dollars for Bradley County taxpayers, not to mention that this extra expense also increased the amount the County had to give the city of Cleveland. Now that we have the additional space, it is short-sighted to tear down usable space just because it is not needed at the moment.
As soon as work on Ocoee Middle has been completed, both the school board and Commission need to take a long-range look at future needs in the elementary area and consider various options for dealing with them.