‘Balance,’ ‘no new schools’ are goals of redrawing boundaries

Tue, 09/04/2007 - 4:22pm
By: Ben Nelms

The Fayette County School System says it could “free up 45 classrooms in some of our elementary schools, while we are using 42 portable classrooms in other elementary schools in the county.”

Balancing empty rooms with overcrowded schools is one of the objectives presented last week to a group of selected parents who will redraw school attendance boundary lines during the next several weeks.

Parent representatives from schools throughout Fayette County got their first look Aug. 30 at the redistricting process intended to redraw lines for a new elementary school on Inman Road to open in 2008-2009 and another on Tillman Road to open the following year.

Other objectives the system presented include the following:

• To not build another elementary school for several years and to maintain the new attendance boundaries for at least five years.

• To leave capacity in schools servings areas of higher growth rates.

• To disrupt as few students as possible with the changed boundaries.

School system officials said the redistricting effort will be different than in times past, with selected parents now working to establish the new boundary lines.

Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat told parents the current redistricting process was the first to involve parent representatives, adding that several boundary committee meetings would likely be required to complete the process. The redistricting process, Sweat said, was suggested by school system consultant Kelley Carey.

“This planning process is different than anything we’ve done before,” Sweat said, noting that prior redistricting had been done internally by the school system. “This is a data-driven citizen process and is open to the community.”

Sweat began the meeting by introducing the boundary committee process, outlining four desired objectives inherent to the outcome.

Those included leaving capacity in the schools with the higher growth rates, balancing schools as much as possible by considering placement of special programs and locally-funded programs, not having to build another elementary school for several years while maintaining boundaries for at least five years and to disrupt as few students as possible, Sweat said.

Composed of parents from all 28 schools in the system, the committee was split into three groups for much of the meeting. The idea was that they would work in small groups, using the more than 50 neighborhood planning units (NPUs) indicated on a county map, to attempt to lay out an initial conceptual boundary for the geographical areas in proximity to the new elementary schools.

School system representatives C. W. Campbell and Sandra Watson reiterated continuously that the intent of the first meeting was for parents to use a “broad brush” when considering possible boundaries for the two new elementary schools. That broad brush will later turn to one with a fine focus, Campbell said.

“For tonight, let go of the boundaries (on the county map provided to committee members) as they are now, because the new schools don’t have boundaries,” said Watson. “The boundaries will have to change because of the new schools. So let go of the (current) boundaries for now or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

Parents quickly took to the task and by meeting’s end, the three groups had essentially proposed identical NPUs for hypothetical inclusion into the boundaries for the new Inman and Tillman schools.

That exercise, said Sweat, was the easy part. Parents in subsequent meetings will undertake more difficult work, including the addition of various transportation variables and those impacting the boundaries of the county’s other elementary schools.

“It’s important that the boundaries use common sense while looking at the big picture,” said Sweat. “This is going to be exciting, but it’s going to be hard work.”

Prior to splitting into groups, Sweat noted a school system policy on attendance boundaries, stating that the opening of a new school may require a shift in boundaries and that development of new residential areas or an increase in the ratio of students per dwelling may cause overcrowding at an existing school.

At the beginning of the meeting, parents were provided with a statement of intent for the boundary committee, a copy of the school board policy on attendance, handouts on metro Atlanta population statistics from Atlanta Regional Commission and a breakdown of enrollment for all Fayette schools for the current and previous school year.

Also furnished to parents, but required to be turned in after the meeting, was a packet containing a county map with NPUs color-coded to indicate population growth rates and documents containing countywide attendance projections from 2007-2011, based on NPUs and broken down by schools and grades.

Generated by Carey, Campbell said the projections were based on a variety of data, including density calculations and anticipated in-migration and out-migration figures.

In explaining why parents would turn in the packet after the meetings, Sweat said the boundary map would continue to change throughout the redistricting process, adding that the school system did not want the ongoing work of the committee to be prematurely misconstrued along the way.

“The end goal is to rearrange the map in appropriate districts,” said Campbell.

Responding to input from parents, Sweat said the names of boundary committee representatives will be available at the front office of each school. Sweat also said minutes of the committee meetings would be posted on the school system’s website at www.fcboe.org.

The next meeting will be held Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at the school board office.

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