CHATSWORTH – Board of Education members said Thursday night it is time to start gathering information to see the best way to alleviate overcrowding at Murray County High School.

The quickest, cheapest way to accomplish that may be to set up an evening high school to allow "at risk students" to take classes at night, said interim superintendent Vickie Reed.

Students who need to work to help their families or students who don't "fit in" at the high school could enroll in evening classes instead of regular classes, she said.

Students enrolled in the evening school would still count toward the high school's enrollment, meaning it would not allow the high school to drop from 5A classification for competitions, Reed said.

But it could help improve the graduation rate, she said.

Board chairwoman Pat Hooker liked the idea of improving the graduation rate, but didn't like that an evening school would mean the school's enrollment is the same.

"I would love to have something like Phoenix (alternative school in Whitfield County) now, but we can't afford another principal and we don't have a facility for it," she said.

Hooker said it is time for the school board members to make up their minds about what to do.

The current SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) expires June 30, 2007. Board members will have to decide what is on the referendum in January so it can go to a vote in March.

Hooker wants to have at least three meetings "to see what people want as far as a new school goes. We have a final say, but I want some input."

The evening school would be a temporary fix, but something else would still have to be done.

"We need to decide if we want a career academy or a traditional high school," Hooker said.

High schools need approximately 100 acres of land to accommodate parking and sports facilities, said Dean Donehoo, director of administrative services. A career academy could need as little as 30 acres, he said.

The problem with building a career academy on only 30 acres is that if the need ever arose to turn it into a traditional high school, the school system wouldn't be able to, Donehoo said.

"We need a building that can be transformed into either," he said.

If a SPLOST passes to build a new high school, the earliest it could open would be the fall of 2009, more likely it would be 2010, Donehoo said. Additionally, it would take two separate SPLOSTs to pay for a new high school because not enough could be collected with one, he said. The current one is projected to collect a total of almost $18 million.

The school system would have to issue a bond to pay for the new high school, but one SPLOST would not cover the estimated $35 million to build a high school, Donehoo said. Another SPLOST would have to be passed after the first one expires to finish paying off the bond debt, but if a second SPLOST does not pass the school system would have to pay for the bond out of general funds, he said.

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