The DeKalb County School Board voted on March 7 to adopt a controversial redistricting plan that will close eight schools and save an estimated $12 million annually.
The plan, originally presented to the board by Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson on Feb. 7, was passed with amendments that lessen the impact of redistricting on students.
“Even with the amendments, Interim Superintendent Tyson still realizes much of her original plan, yet it reduces the impact on the number of students by over 25 percent and retains 100 percent of the cost savings,” said Walter Woods, a spokesperson for DeKalb County Schools.
Tyson thanked the community and parents for their input over the past several months and said that this has been a very difficult task and would be for any superintendent.
“There was an unprecedented level of public engagement and your involvement was critical and essential to bring us to this juncture today...this is about possibilities; this is about opportunities to move this district forward,” Tyson said.
The eight schools that are set be decommissioned with the passing of the redistricting plan are Atherton Elementary, Glen Haven Elementary, Gresham Park Elementary, Medlock Elementary, Peachcrest Elementary and Sky Haven Elementary; the county will discontinue the use of these schools in June 2011.
In addition to these schools, Avondale High School and Avondale Middle School will be placed on inactive status and the county will discontinue the use of these buildings in June 2011, with part of the high school remaining open to house The DeKalb School of the Arts.
According to Woods, decommissioned means a building is not likely to be used in the future whereas inactive status means that its use will be reevaluated at a later date.
Board member Donna Edler raised concerns that all of the schools slated to close did not meet the requirements in the plan, specifically, that of the student criteria and number of seats utilized.
“Glen Haven Elementary school is currently at 82 percent capacity with 454 students as stated in the [interim] superintendent’s recommendation. That is over the 450 student criteria for closing as well as the 82 percent being above the utilization. That [being] said, I do not see why Glen Haven is on the list for closing,” Edler said.
Several other board members, including Sarah Copelin-Wood and Eugene Walker, also made motions to keep various schools open, all of which failed.
Some community members were concerned about the way school boundaries were being drawn rather than schools closing. John Reteneller, Rebecca DiGiuro and Marissa Monty, members of a group of parents with students at Sagamore Hills Elementary, said that their main concern was the eight children in their neighborhood being redistricted to Briar Vista Elementary.
“We are within one mile of our school. My child is at school by 7:55 [a.m.] each morning and picked up by 6 o’clock; his day is already 10 hours long. At Briar Vista his day would start earlier and the after school program runs 30 minutes later to allow parents time to navigate Briarcliff [Road] congestion. Is it really recommended that any child’s school day be 11 to 12 hours long?” Monty asked.
According to DeKalb County Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk, the plan will save the county around $12 million all together; $8.8 million by closing schools and $2.7 million by redistricting, with the remainder of savings in utility costs. Turk said that moving students between lines doesn’t carry a monetary impact and was not calculated into the plan.
“In this case the students are actually, in most cases, closer to the schools they are being [redistricted] to, Turk said, addressing concerns some board members and citizens had that busing students to new districts might not be cost effective.
Edler emphasized that more open discussion was needed between board members and said she was disappointed the board was unable to meet as a whole to discuss the plan before the vote took place.
“This is the only opportunity that the board [has had] to discuss this plan as a [whole], I didn’t think it was sufficient. To govern effectively I think we need to be deliberating and debating as a board…but I think it was a foregone conclusion,” Edler said about the vote.