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Putnam City school board approves early education plan, changing attendance boundaries

Members of the Putnam City School Board voted 4-0 Monday to transform an elementary school into an early education center, much to the chagrin of many of the parents and teachers in attendance.

Board President Jay Sherrill abstained from voting on the proposal to convert D.D. Kirkland Elementary to an early education center for prekindergarten through second-grade students.

Kirkland students in third through fifth grades will attend Rollingwood and Coronado Heights starting next school year, and the district will close the pre-K centers it now leases in the Springdale and Deville shopping centers.

The adjustments are expected to save the district $273,000 annually.

Monday's board meeting was moved to the Capps Middle School Auditorium due to expected interest in the agenda item. About 100 people attended.

Before the vote, 14 members of the public used their three-minute allotments to decry the proposition.

Complaints ranged from scheduling and travel arrangements to the harm of disbanding reading programs between younger and older students. Another chief complaint was that the decision was hasty, with only a week's notice given to parents before the vote.

Several parents said they would move out of the district if the board approved the change.

"Parents will be torn between which school to support. It's hard enough to be involved in one PTA as a working parent, much less two different schools," parent Jennifer Montagna said.

"With the boundaries drawn without a school that serves K-5, I would not buy the house where I am now. And if this passes, I will likely move within the next year to a different school district. And I mean that. I realize that we can request transfers, but the stress of whether your child in K-2 is going to get accepted every year is more than I'm willing to do, because you don't find out until school starts," Montagna said.

Board member Cindy Gibbs, after the public comments, said, "I've had email after email telling me how Kirkland is a gem in our district, which it is, but we have 18 schools which are all gems in our district."

After the vote, most of the spectators headed immediately for the doors.

"I feel that we were railroaded. They did not give us any of the information. They did not give us time, opportunity or anything to come up with any other options before this was done," parent Rachael Clanton said.

Clanton, who owns a day spa, said she headed to the board meeting at Capps after work but couldn't find a parking space. She made it into the auditorium just after the public comment portion of the meeting ended.

"They've already made up their mind," she said.

Budget reduction plan

The change at Kirkland is part of a 10-point budget reduction plan presented Monday by Putnam City Superintendent Fred Rhodes. It is the only part of the plan that will require school board action.

The plan, designed to save $4.5 million during the 2016-17 school year, also includes increasing class sizes, implementing a seven-period class schedule for grades 7 and 8, reductions to athletic programs at all levels, reducing the after-school and summer school program budgets and outsourcing night custodial work at some campuses.

The plan calls for the elimination of about 50 teacher, staff and administrative positions, but most would be achieved through attrition.