McDuffie County voters Tuesday overwhelmingly favored continuing a one-cent special-purpose local option sales tax - half of which will be used to build a new middle school.
But just what grades will be housed there is something school officials will take to the public in the coming months.
School officials plan to hold public hearings on their proposal to house eighth and ninth grades in the new middle school - keeping sixth and seventh grades at the current school.
The one-cent tax is expected to raise about $16 million.
89 percent of voters favored continuing the tax.
Of the 1,148 ballots cast in the special election, there were 1,026 yes votes and 118 no-votes, according to McDuffie County Election Superintendent Tiffany Neal.
Voters approved the first special-purpose local option sales tax in 1999 for a period of three years.
The current campaign, which will expire Dec. 31, is projected to raise $8.9 million for school improvements.
The new campaign voters approved Tuesday will extend the tax for five years.
The proposal would divide the one larger school into two smaller schools with a population of around 500, but the benefits could be much more important, said McDuffie County School Superintendent Ed Grisham.
"The greatest dropout rate statewide and in McDuffie County is in ninth grade," Grisham said. "The thinking there is if we create a two-grade school for eighth and ninth grade we can better target that grade and create a better instructional program and hopefully reduce the dropout rate."
McDuffie County's dropout rate in grades nine through twelve is 8.1 percent, as compared to the state average of 6.4 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Education's Report Card.
But McDuffie County may run into difficulty trying to think outside the box, said Joanne Lee, Georgia Department of Education's education program manager for middle grades education.
According to State Board of Education rule, a middle school is defined as a school containing grades six, seven and eight or grades seven and eight. McDuffie County may have difficulty getting state funds for the school or its programs, she said.
Before the shift to the middle school and the middle-school team teaching concept two decades ago, there were junior high schools which housed grades seven through nine.
"They can do what they want in their building, however, to receive middle school program money you have to have seventh and eighth grades in the same building," Lee said. "There are many different philosophies, and there are some who have tried to implement ninth grade centers to make the transition smoother. And some high schools have separated out the ninth grade, but I don't know of any schools that have just eighth and ninth grades."
The state provides funding for one teacher for every 23 pupils for a middle-grades program. For a middle-school program that utilizes the team teaching concept, the state provides one teacher for every 20 pupils, since it takes more teachers to implement this program, Lee said.
During the current sales-tax campaign, the McDuffie County School System purchased 38 acres across from the high school on Whiteoak Road for the new facility, which is projected to cost about $10 million and will hold up to 650 pupils. Construction is expected to begin in 2005.
School officials have budgeted $7.5 million in sales-tax funds for the new middle school, and are expecting about $2 million more in state construction dollars. Located across from the high school, the two school's could share parking, athletic facilities and the fine arts auditorium, Grisham said.
Pulling ninth grade out of the high school also would relieve the potential for overcrowding there, he added.
"We also believe it would allow us to structure an ideal program for grades six and seven at the present middle school, and obviously we would have ample space there," Grisham said.
But there are other obstacles to implementing such a plan. At the middle school where the eighth-and ninth-graders would be, the ninth-graders would be earning Carnegie credits toward graduation, but the eighth-graders would not. There also is the issue of how a pupil would make up a course if he failed it and then moved on to the high school. Teacher certification also would be an issue: some would be certified to teach middle grades and some would be certified to teach high school because of the state's certification structure.
"There are a lot of encouraging scenarios as we explore this, but there are obstacles too," Grisham said.
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