Atlanta Public Schools would close 13 schools for a savings of about $6.5 million under a redistricting plan released Monday by Superintendent Erroll Davis.
The plan, which would eliminate 7,200 empty seats, is the latest version of a redistricting plan that has been in the works for months and has triggered a huge outcry. Thousands have crammed into community meetings, and the district has received more than 9,000 comments on proposals released by demographers in the past few months.
The maps released Monday are significant because they are the first recommendations by Davis and one of the final stages in the process. Next, the superintendent will hold community meetings on the plan, which would displace about 2,500 students through school closures this fall. School board members will decide the final boundaries with a vote, expected next month.
New boundaries are needed to make the district run more efficiently and to free up money to support and teach students, Davis said. APS serves about 47,000 students, excluding those in charter schools, but it has space for 60,000. The district spends $27 million on salaries for 450 teachers who work in schools too small to qualify for state funding, he said.
Board members discussed the plan for nearly three hours while groups of protesters began to form outside the district's downtown headquarters. Some board members voiced concerns about closing schools, especially in communities where several vacant school buildings already exist. Many of the vacant seats are on the south side of the district while many schools in north Atlanta are overcrowded.
School board member LaChandra Butler Burks suggested the district wait on closing schools until it had firm ideas for how buildings would be reused.
"In doing closures, you decrease morale, you decrease parent involvement, which feeds into decreased student achievement," she said. "We’re adding more distress onto already distressed communities. Is all that worth a couple hundred thousand dollars?"
"Our driving force is a commitment to children, not to buildings," Davis said in response. "We are heating, cooling, lighting 13,000 empty seats. The money spent [there] can go to counselors, social workers, assistant principals, the kind of robust support the children in the needy communities are not getting."
While never popular, attendance zone changes are necessary as school officials balance population shifts and costs. Several large school systems, including Cobb and DeKalb counties, have recently attempted massive changes. In February, Cobb approved a redistricting that will affect more than 2,500 students in two dozen schools over the next two school years.
After fighting through criticism and political pressure for more than a year, DeKalb officials approved a plan that moved about 7,000 students, closed eight schools and saved an estimated $12.4 million annually.
It's the first time in almost a decade that APS has attempted a redistricting of this size. Four scenarios were released in late November to start discussions about new boundaries. The maps were created by outside demographers and mapping specialists and changed as the district received input and results from a demographic survey. Two revised options were released in January.
The plan released Monday calls for schools to be reorganized into "clusters," meaning students would stay together as they move to middle and high school. It also calls for renovations and expansions at many schools and support services to be added at others. For example, Jackson High School in East Atlanta would be rebuilt for $40 million and would include an International Baccalaureate program, which offers more rigorous coursework for students. Nearby Coan Middle School would be closed, and students would attend King Middle School.
Parent Doug Wood is concerned his Toomer Elementary School students will be rezoned from Coan Middle and Grady High to King Middle and Jackson High. Toomer parents have worked hard to improve the school and were going to take that same momentum to Coan, he said. He spoke at Monday's meeting along with dozens of others from across the city, some who held signs and chanted "save our schools."
"Adding special programs doesn't do it. It isn't enough," he said. "We can all have fancy programs. It doesn't mean they work."
Buckhead is the only area that won't be affected by the boundary changes. After attempts to redraw lines, parents in Buckhead made clear that they would rather deal with "potentially full schools" than with new school zones, according to demographers. Davis' plan calls for school populations to be monitored in the north Atlanta area.
Staff writer Nancy Badertscher contributed to this article.
APS schools slated for closure:
- Boyd Elementary School
- Capitol View Elementary School
- Cook Elementary School
- East Lake Elementary School
- Fain Elementary School
- Herndon Elementary School
- Humphries Elementary School
- F.L. Stanton Elementary School
- Thomasville Heights Elementary School
- White Elementary School
- Coan Middle School
- Kennedy Middle School
- Parks Middle School
- Public hearings kick off March 12
- Superintendent's final recommendation goes online April 9
- Formal presentation to the school board and board final vote April 10
- Most changes effective with the 2012-2013 school year
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