About 100 people showed up at the public forum in the high school’s theater, including a number of students. Bartlett spoke for about 25 minutes before opening the one-hour meeting up to questions from the audience. There was loud grumbling when she told attendees their questions would only be taken via index cards and that they wouldn’t be allowed to speak.
Bartlett said she is perhaps the most fiscally conservative of the board’s seven members, which largely explained why she voted last March against Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s recommendation to approve the $14.5 million construction of a ninth-grade center.
The Cobb School District’s central office recently projected that Harrison’s enrollment will drop from presently 2,044 students to 1,966 students next school year, while increasing at other high schools, especially in south Cobb, Bartlett said. Building the new center now would also negatively affect the district’s general fund, which is already facing a $62.4 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2013, she said.
If the district can later afford it, she will support the construction of a Harrison ninth-grade center, she said.
“For me, the cost of this building is going to cost $133,000 – not including the kitchen – out of general fund every year to maintain,” Bartlett said.
“When I look at growth, it is not in this area. It is not in Hillgrove, Allatoona and Harrison. It is south of Macland Road and it is mostly in the Campbell/Osborne area. So for me, why am I building a building that’s going to cost more in general fund in an area that I don’t see growth coming in any projections?”
Some in the Harrison community have criticized Bartlett’s vote, particularly in light of the fact that she will soon represent the school on the board, after a new reapportionment map was approved. Board members David Morgan, Kathleen Angelucci and Tim Stultz also voted to delay the project.
Many of the questions, which were read aloud by Principal Donnie Griggers, criticized the board for voting to improve or expand facilities at other schools and not in this case.
“Are you going to vote down every project from now on that increases the general budget?” one question read.
“I typically do,” Bartlett said.
“Since you will represent Harrison in the future, how do you plan to restore support from us?” another question read.
“I do what I think is right,” Bartlett responded.
After the forum, James Bradley said he remained convinced that a new ninth-grade center should be built.
“I think that she is definitely going against what it is that the general board, the recommendations and all of the public feel about what should be done,” said Bradley, who has a child at Harrison and two more headed there.
“She’s kind of making waves when they don’t need to be made. Anybody who walks through his school in the middle of the day will see just how inadequate the facilities are and how difficult it is for the students to deal with.”
A group of Harrison juniors expressed concerns about the physical condition of their school, which they described as desperately in need of repair. They said they have friends who have been hurt on the school’s rugged track.
“Every school but ours is basically well renovated, has high technology in it and smart boards,” said Amber Maynard. “We don’t have those. We still have trailers outside.”
“I feel like (Bartlett) came with her mind made up,” Sarah Schwartz said. “I don’t think she was planning on really listening to what we had to say.”
Muna Calvert, a mother of a Harrison sophomore and two younger children, felt few people who showed up were persuaded to change their opinions on the matter. She isn’t certain a ninth-grade center is currently needed, but would like to see renovations to the existing school.
“(Bartlett) has already set her mind, and I don’t know that any of this is going to change it,” Calvert said.
School board Chairman Scott Sweeney and member Lynnda Eagle, who currently represents Harrison, have called a re-vote on the issue at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
If the board votes again on the building of a ninth-grade center, Bartlett said her vote will remain the same. She said following the meeting that few audience members, if any, had likely changed their opinions about the issue either.
“They want and feel like they deserve the ninth-grade center,” she said.