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Sumter school superintendent answers questions

By MICHAEL MURRAY

michael.murray@gaflnews.com

americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The Sumter County School system held a planning session at Americus-Sumter County High School’s South Campus Tuesday. The meeting was held to discuss the system’s plans for the future of the school system and to give citizens the opportunity to ask Superintendent Donnie Smith questions.

Smith began his presentation by highlighting the various accomplishments of graduates of the school system and saying that he is proud of what the school system has achieved over the years. Smith went on to state, “Many students do not take advantage of all of the educational opportunities that are provided. This is true of school systems all over the country and the world.

“Many of our students do not squander the opportunities that our system provides. A lot of our students go on to prestigious universities and compete globally in their various fields.”

He then referred back to the system’s graduates who have gone on to achieve great things and shared a story about a hard-working student that he encountered earlier this year.

This led into a discussion about the prospect for improving the infrastructure of the system. Smith stated that many people are confused about the state of the school system, thinking that Americus and Sumter County are represented by two different systems. He shared statistics of school systems across the state such as campus size and cafeteria size and remarked that the current school buildings in the system are very small in comparison, specifically the high school’s south campus. From there, Smith began to highlight the need for expansion of the school system.

According to Smith, the school board has considered three different options to achieve this goal. The first option is to renovate, modify, and add to existing facilities. The second option is to rebuild the high school on the current campus. The third is to build a new educational institution that would house grades 9-12.

Smith then presented a slide show highlighting the pros of each of these options, citing examples from other systems in the state that have remedied these issues through these strategies. With the current situation of the school facilities, Smith stated that he believes the most effective option would be to build a new facility. Smith said that he and the board arrived at this decision because it would cost at least $15-20 million to renovate the existing facilities. He also stated that, at 36.4 acres, the location of the current south campus would not be large enough to accommodate a newer facility.

The potential costs of this undertaking would total around $40-42 million. If the project were to proceed, the system is projected to receive $14 million in state funding. The other $26-28 million dollars would come from ESPLOST funds. Voters in Sumter County go to the polls on March 17 to decide the question of continuing the ESPLOST.

Smith stated that he plans to submit a proposal for a reconfiguration of the school system in March, citing the need for the schools to share space in order to consolidate services, operate uniformly, and reduce duplication of resources and expenses. Smith also expressed concern that the schools have become less demographically diverse over the years and his stated his hopes that this proposal would help to remedy that.

Smith answered questions from citizens, informing the audience that the location of the proposed high school is yet to be determined. If the project were approved, Smith stated that he would expect it to be completed by December 2017. The future of the existing facility at Americus-Sumter High south campus is yet to be determined if a new facility is built. Smith stated that the board has discussed selling the land, creating a green space and allowing the board to repurpose the building. Pending approval of the project, the schools could begin reconfiguration as early as next year. If approved, the project could also depend on a renewal of ESPLOST.