Parents complain, and school system delays redistricting vote

Responding to a parent outcry, the DeKalb County school board postponed a vote Monday on selling bonds to expedite school construction and also didn’t take a first vote on school redistricting as it had planned.

Proposed attendance lines that would affect several thousand students have drawn criticism from parents, as has a plan by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson to float $80 million in bonds to get construction under way sooner using anticipated sales tax proceeds.

Atkinson floated her plan in late November and initially called for a vote on it Monday. Then, last week, the district backpedaled, saying Monday’s vote would be the first of two, with the second Jan. 23. On Monday before the meeting, however, officials announced that the first vote on the draft plan would now be delayed until the board’s next regular meeting Jan. 7. At Monday’s meeting, Atkinson also asked the board to withdraw her bond resolution.

“We want to get this right, and we want to do it well,” Atkinson said after an hour of public comment, when her plans were in the bull’s-eye for one parent after another. “While we did not have it 100 percent out of the gate this time, we’re going to work hard toward that.”

Atkinson previously said she was rushing the process because $40 million in state funds hinged on timely completion. She said the plans were a year overdue.

Parents have voiced a variety of complaints about the attendance-line proposals and related demolition and construction plans.

Families at Evansdale Elementary, for instance, a North DeKalb school where a fundraiser recently brought in $70,000 to pay for two supplementary teachers, were unhappy about being moved from the Lakeside High attendance zone to Tucker High. Lakeside has a better performance record.

“We are actually losing faith in your leadership,” said Angie Claussen, a parent at Evansdale. “Shiny new buildings do no good when classes are overcrowded … We need to focus on instruction, not construction.”

The construction money comes from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a five-year sales tax approved by voters to pay for new buildings and renovations.

Parents in South DeKalb were also critical.

Atkinson previously proposed closing three middle schools and moving the students to high school campuses as a way to save money. She withdrew that idea in the face of clear opposition from the school board and public.

But Byron Merritt, whose daughter attends the magnet program at Southwest DeKalb High, said the new plans had feeder middle school magnet programs diverted from the high school. He questioned the district’s commitment to the high school’s magnet program.

“In its present form,” he said, “it simply does not work.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.