Fate of Ernest Ward unknown

Published 3:50 am Monday, June 12, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
The Escambia County Florida School Board is planning to close Ernest Ward Middle School.
That closure, however, has not been scheduled and remains on a list of possible closures that are to take place by the year 2014. Rumors circulated through the Walnut Hill and Atmore communities this week that the school would be closing in the 2007 school year.
"Ernest Ward is in the long-range, 15-year plan to close," assistant superintendent of operations Shawn Dennis said. "That is quite a ways down the road. Looking at Ernest Ward for closure is not even an issue at this point. We are talking about three to five years down the road if then."
The School Board hired education facilities expert John Watson to perform a study of every school in the district complete with individual work ups of the possible growth trends, demographics and other essentials over the next 10 years.
Upon completion of Watson's study, a plan was released detailing what actions would need to take place in order to facilitate the district's budget.
"We have too many schools in the county," public and interagency affairs associate superintendent Ronnie Arnold said. "No one will argue with that. Our money is tied up in operating expenses of all these different facilities."
Watson's plan, released in November, has different phases leading up to the expected completion in 2014.
"Ernest Ward is not even mentioned in the first phase of the plan," Dennis said. "The schools effected in Phase 1 are Woodham High School and two middle schools, Wedgewood and Brownsville."
Among the rumors circulating about Ernest Ward, flyers were distributed encouraging people to be present at two different closure meetings at the school board offices on June 13 and June 20. The flyers also stated that written statements of an alternative plan must be submitted by June 20.
"Those meetings are the SAZAC (School Attendance Zone Advisory Committee) meetings," Arnold said. "This committee is going through the process for closure for Woodham right now. Nothing has been said about Ernest Ward. We have extended a deadline for anybody who may have an alternative for the Woodham closure to submit it in written form by June 30. And Ernest Ward is definitely not an alternative to Woodham! There is definitely no timetable and no action by the board regarding Ernest Ward at this time. There is no money that is readily available to do what is called for. There are other schools on the closure list, not just Ernest Ward."
Watson's plan calls for Ernest Ward to be closed and consolidated with Molino Park Elementary making it a K-8 school.
"If we closed Ernest Ward tomorrow, Molino Park could not facilitate the increase in students," Arnold said. "No lines have been drawn."
According to Dennis Molino Park is not the only school with a limited capacity for a consolidation, but stated that there is no capacity for the students at Ransom Middle School or Carver Middle School for an influx of EWMS students.
"Yes, Ernest Ward is in the master plan for closure and redistricting," Dennis said. "But so are seven other schools. Ernest Ward is not involved in the first phase of the plan and will not be closed next year."
Dennis believes that the rumors have surfaced from a recent article published in the "Pensacola News Journal" and a misunderstanding of the Watson plan that was released in November. According to Dennis the community has been misinformed and urges everyone to communicate directly with the school board for confirmation.

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