With little fanfare and no warning, the DeKalb School System Administration yesterday (Wednesday, November 28, 2012) at yet another called meeting unveiled a plan that will impact tens of thousands of students. Cleverly disguising this redistricting/school consolidation plan as a discussion of the Proposed 2012-2017 School Organization at a called policy meeting, the Administration assured that no parent would know what was going to be presented. The meeting was held in the afternoon, while taxpaying parents were still at work. And it was untelevised. Meanwhile, Sarah Copelin-Wood, not grasping the meaning and intent of Georgia’s Open Records Law, is on record, herself, as saying she did not want to share any of the plan with the public.
Let’s start with the most concerning issue. After publicly promising the board and the parents that she would not use bond financing for this SPLOST, Dr. Atkinson’s staff had the audacity to present several versions of a plan that included not only normal bond funding, but aggressive bond funding. The normal bond funding will cost 5.5 million dollars in fees and interest, and this money will be recovered (they claim) from not doing SPLOST projects at schools that are now slated to be closed. Though not reflected in the document, the Board of Education was also informed that there would be a need for more Central Office staff to oversee the construction program.
Given the mistakes made in the last SPLOST related to bond funding and the general incompetence shown by DCSS in managing multiple construction projects at once, borrowing money to expedite projects is a bad idea. (FYI—Gene Walker’s son sells bonds, so be on the lookout for that one.)
The specifics revealed in the document show that several schools will become grades 6-12. Apparently this is because we simply don’t have enough middle and high school students to fill all those secondary schools. However, one middle school would become a choice school. It seems to me that this is short-sighted, draining a dwindling pool of students in the neighborhood schools to fill a building we probably don’t need. In addition, what school system has successful 6-12 neighborhood (not choice) schools. Show us some, before asking students to be guinea pigs.
Some very critical specifics were missing — for example, the opportunity costs for combining middle schools and high schools. The most obvious one is the additional state funding made available to middle schools. We have not had a chance to research that, ourselves, but then we don’t have a huge staff sitting around like they do at the Palace.
Also disconcerting is the fact that just 18 months ago this very same board voted to keep Livsey open and Evansdale Elementary at Lakeside. For this superintendent to ask them to reverse their vote seems very strange. Perhaps no one told her about the last round of redistricting?
And then there is this jewel. Fernbank Elementary will open its new school with less than 800 students in a building for 900. To facilitate Fernbank’s enrollment, students from Laurel Ridge and Briar Vista will be redistricted to Fernbank. This year Laurel Ridge has about 450 students. After redistricting, it will have about 350. How is that right and how does that leave a viable school?
In many cases the plan lays out the obvious: schools that will be closed in order to be consolidated into new schools. Other suggestions are the merging of the magnet programs at Wadsworth and Chapel Hill into one facility for grades 4 through 8. The only redistricting scheduled for next year is some at Browns Mill and at Idlewood.
The Board is being asked to vote on this plan on December 10, less than 2 weeks from now. We have many questions about the data and it amazes us that there will not be a public hearing to discuss the plan. We understand that each individual school closing, redistricting, etc must have its own public meetings, but does that mean that the parents/community in an area now identified for changes in 2018 have to wait until that year to have input?
Please share your reactions to this “plan” here. It is a long document (more than 100 pages)and easy to miss the small, but critical details. And as they say, “The Devil is in the details.” Go to Nancy Jester’s website to read the document and download it.
We also encourage you all to share your comments and concerns with the entire board, not just your own board member. When you do, if you will have a new board member in January, please make sure you copy your incoming board member. We do not have an e-mail address for Melvin Johnson (if anyone has it, please send). Jim McMahan’s e-mail address is: email@example.com. For Marshall Orson, we are using the most recent one from his multiple e-mails to Dan Drake: firstname.lastname@example.org.