South Rome Learning Center 2018

South Rome Early Learning Center lead teacher Allyson Chambers (back) leads students in a song while Berry College students follow along with the gestures to model for the kids Thursday. (Spencer Lahr / RN-T.com)

As the Rome Board of Education considers providing funding for the South Rome Early Learning Center to keep it running, the school system is aiming to develop a model to be replicated at the new Main Elementary School.

Rome City Schools hopes to have the new school open by the 2019-2020 school year and a designated space for an early learning center has been built into the plans, according to Superintendent Lou Byars. The additional early learning center is seen by the system as a tremendous opportunity to engage Rome City kids before pre-K and get them on track for reading at or above grade level.

However, talks between the system and its partners — Berry College and the South Rome Redevelopment Corp. — are ongoing to find a way to keep the current center for 3-year-olds at Anna K. Davie Elementary in operation for the remainder of the school year and beyond.

The system is also attempting to better meet an original goal behind the SRELC in having it focus on eventual students of Anna K. Davie, which had the lowest College and Career Ready Performance Index score of all Rome City elementary schools in 2017 with 54.0 — the score is on a scale from 0 to 100. Of the current 30 students in two classrooms at the SRELC, only five are in the AKD district — however the majority are still Rome City students.

Offering free tuition — board member Faith Collins said when the SRELC was first established she was not aware of there being a charge — and extending the day to 5 p.m. to align with parent work schedules are seen as two potential factors in getting more kids from this district.

AKD Assistant Principal Kriszti Kilpatrick said the system could also go down to a single classroom until it can be shown more kids from this district are coming to the center.

The issue was presented to board members during a called meeting Tuesday, with Byars proposing the system pay out $45,000 per classroom to pay for two lead teachers and two assistant teachers for the remainder of the school year. He also proposed providing $75,000 per classroom for the same purpose next school year. The system currently only makes in-kind contributions, such as providing classrooms and meals for kids.

The board deferred any decision to at least the March 13 meeting. Current anticipated funds could possibly keep the center going for another month without funding from the system or elsewhere, said SRRC Executive Director Charles Looney. The loss of funding from large grants and the Georgia CAPS program, along with a $20,000 shortfall in fundraising, were cited as causes leading to the center’s current financial situation.

“We’re going to have to shut it down,” if continuation funds are not provided, Byars said.

Board member Will Byington asked if Berry College — it runs the center’s day-to-operations, provides student-teachers and curriculum — could commit any funding. Gary Watters, the chief of staff to Berry President Stephen Briggs, said at the meeting it was not “fair” to raise college tuition to provide money for the center.

Collins said the board must ensure there is funding for K-12 education and expressed some concern, without having been presented with next year’s budget yet, on bringing on an additional fiscal responsibility — she called for more discussion. The center saves the system cost on remedial education “down the road,” Byars stated.