COVINGTON -- Newton County School officials could decide later this month if the Ombudsman alternative education program will remain at the old Sharp Learning Center or if it will move to a new location.
John Wacha, assistance vice president of center operations for Ombudsman, told the Newton County Board of Education on Tuesday night that the company has located a building for lease on 10714 Bypass Road near the school system's transportation facility.
Since the beginning of the school year, the program has been housed at Sharp because the state Department of Education failed to approve two sites in Newton County due to their proximity to locations that sold alcohol.
Since then, Wacha said the business has been using a local real estate company to help find leased properties for the program; the company doesn't purchase spaces.
The proposed new location is 10,000 square feet. Wacha said that would be enough to house two separate programs of about 4,000 square feet each on opposite sides of the building with a 2,000-square-foot office space between the two entrances, which could be 50 yards apart.
He said other Ombudsman sites have successfully utilized the same layout.
Although he said Ombudsman likes to place sites near locations like grocery stores and other businesses where students can work before or after their courses, this site would allow for less foot traffic, as Ombudsman would be the building's only tenants.
Wacha said session start times could be staggered to avoid heavy traffic for entering and exiting the location.
RaNae Fendley, director of Student Services at NCSS, said that she is not aware of any parent complaints of having one location, instead of two like originally planned.
Wacha also said Ombudsman could run one program at part of the location and the other one at a portion of Sharp.
Either way, the school board has asked for Ombudsman to come up with an agreement for rental of school facilities, as other private businesses pay, for past and future usage of the Sharp space. Currently, Ombudsman is paying for utility costs at Sharp.
"We are willing to go back and look at the agreement and come to a fair agreement," Wacha said, adding that the company currently is paying rent on the two original locations for the rest of the school year.
The board also stressed a need to speedily resolve this issue.
"We promised we would do right by these students, and we haven't," school board member Jeff Meadors said. "We need to fix this. ... I know it can work well with our students. I know you ran into a bump ... but it's time to make it right."
Wacha reported to the board that currently, 158 students are enrolled in Ombudsman in Newton County. The attendance rate is 86 percent, compared to an 85 percent rate at Sharp last school year.
To date, the program has dealt with 49 discipline incidents in which school officials call the parents in and meet with them and the child. This is compared to 652 incidents at Sharp last school year.
Additionally, the program has dropped six students for behavior issues so far this year, compared to 17 at Sharp last school year; 48 students have a special education plan, compared to 41 at Sharp.
NCSS saved $1,941,962 from its general fund budget by eliminating the Sharp Learning Center alternative education program and contracting with Ombudsman to provide the alternative education services. With the Ombudsman program, NCSS expects to spend $1,245,500 on alternative education.
Ombudsman officials planned to meet with NCSS officials this week to discuss plans for relocation and a rental agreement. Options are expected to be presented to the school board during its next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 25, at the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive, N.E., in Covington.