Pine Bluff School District Superintendant Linda Watson speaks to a small gathering at Pine Bluff High School on Monday evening to discuss plans to close Greenville Elementary School. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Linda Watson reiterated at a community meeting Monday evening that the recommended closure of Greenville Elementary School at the end of the current school year is not something that is being taken lightly and is only being done out of fiscal necessity.
The recommendation to close Greenville must be approved by the Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors before it is official.
“It’s not that we want to close schools; it’s that we need to be efficient and effective in the way that we use district funds,” Watson said at the meeting in the Pine Bluff High School Little Theater. “I like to compare it to a family that has two incomes that are reduced to one income. When that happens you have to make some adjustments and because this school district continues to lose students we are losing the income that each of those students represents.”
Watson said that under the current school closing plan no district staff will lose their jobs.
“We will reduce staff through natural attrition as staff members retire,” Watson said. “Most of the money the district receives goes towards staff salaries. We usually lose around 40 teachers every year through attrition. Greenville Elementary has 30 staff members so they should be accounted for under this plan.”
Watson said she has cut back on hiring at the administration level.
“When I made Suzette Anderson the assistant superintendent I did not fill the position she had,” Watson said. “Ms. Anderson is continuing to work with special education. I still don’t have the grant writer I need, even though the board approved the position. There are also school improvement specialist positions that are yet to be filled. This is all an effort to keep costs down.”
Watson said that the district will do everything that it can to work with the parents and students affected by plans to close Greenville Elementary.
“We are planning right now to split the Greenville students between Oak Park, Southwood and 34th and maybe a few going to Broadmoor,” Watson said. “Students will continue to receive bus transportation and siblings who are currently attending Greenville will be allowed to attend the same school when Greenville closes. If a parent does not want their child to go to the school that they are assigned to they can apply for a transfer.”
Watson said the original first steps to addressing the problem of dropping enrollment involved the closure of two schools and the shifting of students.
“We were really looking at closing two schools at the end of this year as well as shifting the ninth grade to Pine Bluff High School and splitting the sixth through the eighth grades between Bel Air and Southeast Middle Schools,” Watson said. “Under that plan we would keep the current Jack Robey building and close either Belair or Southeast. But due to the current academic status of the district we were advised to hold off on doing this for now.”