The Jackson County School Board is moving forward with plans to close Sneads Elementary School and build a new Kindergarten-8th grade school in Grand Ridge School.
Many citizens who don’t want their community school closed attended the January 12 school board workshop to voice their concerns.
The new school was initially proposed to be in the Four Points area of Sneads, but due to environmental and financial issues, the board has since decided to have the school built in Grand Ridge.
Sneads Pre-Kindergarten through 4th-grade students will join Grand Ridge’s fifth through 8th grade students.
The plan is to build new buildings to add to the Grand Ridge School.
Judy Weeks, who attended the workshop, reminded the board members that during the community meetings on the possible school closure, four out of five of the board members acknowledged that closing the school would devastate Sneads.
“The people of the Sneads community are speaking to you,” Weeks reasoned. “We’re saying to you this is not a win/win situation, but yet individually you have said that our voice does not matter because the $50 million is more important than the loss of a community.”
Superintendent Steve Benton said its school board members are obligated to provide a safe environment for students.
He said the safest school in the county is the combination “K-8” school in Marianna.
“I don’t know what the answer to it is…we’re still working on it,” Benton said.
The superintendent said the district is limited on the amount of tax revenue it receives.
The state gave the school board nearly $53 million to build the new school.
“If I raise your property taxes, we still cannot build a school,” Benton reasoned.
During the workshop, some concerned citizens questioned why the money couldn’t be split between the two schools.
Jackson County Public Schools Director of Finance Kathy Sneads said the appropriations could not be split because it is specifically for building a combination “K-8” school.
One parent asked if there are other grants that could be applied for to build new schools.
Sneads explained that the $53 million is not a grant; it’s an appropriation from the governor called ‘special facilities funding’.
“And the only way you can receive that funding – not every school in the state of Florida does that – is if the cost of construction or remodeling costs more than what your tax revenue can generate in your county in a three-year period,” Sneads said. “That’s about $11 million in a three-year period for our school district.”
Sneads also noted that appropriations are not guaranteed
Although she lives in Marianna, Marie Collins sends her three children to school in Sneads.
Collins said she works in Sneads, so she doesn’t have to go out of her way to drop her children off and pick them up from school.
“The school over there is so much better,” Collins said. “Even when I lived in Grand Ridge and Altha, my daughter still went [to Sneads].”
The mother of three said her daughter does so great at Sneads Elementary, she decided to send her two young children there as well.
Now with the school board planning to close the school, Collins is considering homeschooling her children.
Collins did not attend the workshop, but she said she didn’t think it would have done any good anyway.
“The school board already has in their head what they want to do and it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say about it,” Collins expressed.
Collins said one of the reasons she loves Sneads Elementary is because the teachers set high expectations for their pupils, and the principal sets high expectations for the teachers.
“The teachers have always been very understanding and they do everything in their power to make sure the students feel heard and helped.
Collins said she fears if Sneads Elementary closes, some of those teachers will lose their job.
She said she’s also afraid that if the schools are combined, new teachers are not going to have that same care that her children received from their teachers at Sneads Elementary.
Another Sneads parent is concerned about how closing the school will affect the entire community.
Gena Stephens McDaniels has two older children who attended Sneads Elementary and a nine-year-old who attended until schools let out due to the COVID pandemic, before being homeschooled.
“I don’t think it’s being done in a fair way,” McDaniels said.
McDaniels said there were three other options for the location of the school – Grand Ridge, Four Points and where Sneads Elementary is currently located.
McDaniels said she wants a fair process where all three sites are seriously considered.
“My biggest issue is the way it was done with little consideration for Sneads residents.”
McDaniels, who owns a grocery store in Sneads, said businesses, in addition to the town in general, suffer when such a large part of the community is taken away.
Since the proposal of the school closure, citizens have joined together to form Citizens for Protecting SES.
The group has been circulating an online petition, which reportedly has more than 200 signatures, asking school board members to reconsider their plans.
Signers have the option to send their signed petition directly to each school board member. To sign the petition visit citizens4ses.com
As of print deadline on January 17, the board was set to vote on layout and construction plans that evening.
An update will be provided on the Chattahoochee News-Herald/Sneads Sentinel Facebook page and website; an update will be in next week’s print newspaper.
Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service