Atlanta Public Schools will close two elementary schools next school year as part of a broader effort to address declining student populations and save money.
The Atlanta Board of Education today voted 7-2 to approve Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's recommendations, which will close Whitefoord Elementary School and Adamsville Primary School. The plan also restructures Miles Intermediate School into a PreK-5 school.
“Not everyone will be happy, but I believe our kids will benefit, receive a better education, and be better prepared for college and career,” said Board Chair Courtney English.
The closed schools were significantly underenrolled. Whitefoord is currently at 48 percent capacity, and Adamsville was at 58 percent. Whitefoord has only 272 students, making it one of the smallest schools in APS. The schools are indicative of a district that at one point had capacity for 100,000 students but now has a student population of 51,000.
Before voting, the board offered an extended time for public comment, and they got an earful. Almost 40 people addressed the board, most urging it to reject the closures due to concerns about empty buildings in their neighborhoods, increased transportation costs, uprooted students and lost staff positions. Teachers in closed and restructured schools must reapply for positions in newly structured schools, with priority status but no guarantee of employment.
Others worried the board was cutting spending at the expense of education.
“This is about money. This is not about students,” said Phyllis Almond, a grandmother of a student at Towns Elementary School. Almond’s grandson has improved from C’s to A’s since coming to Atlanta and made it to the state spelling bee this year, which she sees as a sign that schools are on track.
Carstarphen responded to those who suggested the district, which is largely funded by Atlanta property taxes, was flush with cash.
“Our city brings it in. Thank you, taxpayers, but we don’t get it all,” she said, noting that the state has withheld $1.6 billion since 2003 that the district should have received according to a funding formula. “We’re not rolling in the dough.”
Board members pressed Carstarphen about class sizes and empty buildings.
“I do not think merging two struggling schools into one larger school is what’s best for children,” said Steven Lee, who represents District 5. Lee and Byron Amos, District 2, voted against the proposal.
Carstarphen assured the board that she was working to find uses for the buildings and expressed her belief that streamlining schools would make it easier to focus on programs, planning and teacher quality.
Carstarphen proposed merging Benteen and D.H. Stanton elementary schools at a meeting Wednesday but reversed course at the school board meeting Monday. Though many parents voiced support for this change, Alicia DeCristio, a mother in the Jackson Cluster of schools was disappointed.
“Does this mean that next year we’ll be having the same conversation?” she said, noting that the district did not change its criteria for school closures. DeCristio had hoped the merger would provide more resources for students.
Closing schools was a hard decision for Carstarphen, but the board ultimately sided with her.
“I don’t ever want to close schools or consolidate, but we’re in a special situation,” she said. “I’m hopeful that these changes are going to make a difference for our district.”
In other news: 5 things to know today, March 7