Mayor, parents ask Gwinnett Schools to rethink redistricting

Parents upset about proposed boundary changes couldn’t wait for next month’s public hearing to voice their concerns to the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

Dozens of people packed Thursday night’s school board meeting and they came with political clout -- the mayor of Duluth, one of the cities impacted the most by the redistricting plan.

Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris addressed the board and provided the city council’s position on the proposed boundary map: It is against it.

“Too many neighbors and people who live within the city of Duluth attend another school,” Harris said. “Neighbors living side by side on the same street are attending different high schools.”

About 700 elementary, middle and high school students could change campuses under the proposed boundary changes, which could have teens graduating from rival schools. Students at Peachtree Ridge High in Suwanee, for example, could be swapping Lions’ royal blue and white for the Duluth High Wildcats’ purple and white. Mason Elementary and Hull Middle School students will be sent to Duluth Schools. Elementary school students in Duluth also will be shifted.

Duluth resident Chip Sweeney asked the school board to abandon the current proposal and encourage its planning department to develop a plan that is fair. About 47 percent of Duluth High students qualify for free and discounted lunch, compared to 26 percent of Peachtree Ridge High students who meet that criteria.

“This proposal will only increase the disparity,” Sweeney said. “It will not balance and benefit both schools. It certainly will not unite broken communities.”

The school system’s planning department is seeking feedback through April 1 before a final proposal is brought to the school board for consideration.

A public hearing on the proposed boundaries will be held on April 20. The school board will vote on it the following night.

Some parents, however, have asked for more input, and sooner. They urged the district to slow down the process and open it up to the public in the form of community workshops.

“Let’s not just have a public hearing where a few people are on the agenda,” saidAmanda Helmstetter, a Duluth parent. “Let’s have workshops ... like Fulton County is doing.”

School board chairman Robert McClure said the district has been using the same redistricting process for years, but the board will consider suggestions to improve it. “We will certainly look at this one with all due seriousness,” McClure said.

Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said the “type of housing and income,” is not something Gwinnett considers when boundaries are drawn. “If you have what you think is a better proposal, now is your chance to give us that,” he said.