DeKalb officials consider new attendance lines

The DeKalb County school board has a couple of weeks to consider proposed changes to attendance lines, but members seemed ready Tuesday to toss one idea off the table within moments of hearing it.

Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson presented a draft of her plan to merge some schools and expand others as part of a new five-year school construction program. The proposal affects several thousand students, including some middle school students Atkinson wants to send to high schools in a money-saving merger.

One idea was merging two South DeKalb middle schools, McNair and Cedar Grove, with McNair and Cedar Grove high schools. It provoked a strong reaction from several board members, who worried about mixing sixth-graders with teenagers and young adults.

The last time DeKalb tried that, said board member Jay Cunningham, pregnant girls were mixing with younger kids.

Sarah Copelin-Wood called the idea “ludicrous.”

“You talk about how much money you’ve saved, but how many lives have you destroyed,” Copelin-Wood said. “Haven’t you done enough? What do you want to do: Shoot the kids?”

Atkinson didn’t respond, but board chairman Eugene Walker, seated beside her, said the idea was likely off the table.

The board is to vote Dec. 10 on the attendance-zone plan, which would add thousands of seats at other schools.

Another proposal also provoked a strong reaction: Atkinson recommended floating $80 million in bonds — borrowing money — to expedite construction of several schools. It would cost an extra $5.5 million, but that would be covered by cost-cutting elsewhere in the construction program.

Previously, Atkinson had recommended “pay as you go” financing, building schools only after receiving enough sales tax money to fund the construction.

“I am very much opposed to stepping out on a bond cliff,” said board member Don McChesney, who was concerned about the unpredictable economy. But others, including Walker, defended the idea because it could allow more construction to occur while prices are low.

Marcia Coward, president of the DeKalb County Council of PTAs, said she hadn’t seen the details but said the plan sounded consistent with those developed several years ago when schools were slated for closure. Officials said they’ll post the documents online soon, possibly Wednesday.

“I’m sure parents are going to be curious to really look at the details,” Coward said.

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