I had one question at the end of tonight’s nearly four hour Citizens Planning Task Force meeting on which under-capacity DeKalb schools to close: Why didn’t the DeKalb County schools superintendent make this tough decision?
Instead, a citizen task force is doing the hard, no-win job of paring down an original list of 83 schools to four for possible closing and consolidation. The task force will present its findings to the county school board in two weeks, and the board will make the actual decision of which schools to close after another round of public hearings.
Tonight, the dwindling list went from 14 to 10 with the elimination of Medlock, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge and Avondale elementaries. The task force voted those schools off the list because the schools around them lacked the capacity to absorb the displaced students. (See the AJC story.)
Before the meeting started, someone pointed out to me that Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall would have made this decision on her own without a 20-member task force, six highly emotional public meetings and all this sturm and drang. Attended by 350 parents and students, tonight’s meeting included entreaties and poetry by students, impassioned speeches by parents, suggestions of racially driven decision-making by a task force members and plans for a possible second meeting this week.
Why go through such a public and protracted drama? Isn’t school leadership supposed to confront the hard choices?
The task force is making its decisions based on data supplied by the county. It is supposed to come up with candidates for closure and consolidation based on quantifiable criteria.
The main considerations of the task force are factual, including which schools are under capacity, are unlikely to regain students and are close to schools with empty seats. To discern which schools best match that criteria, the task force is using information supplied by county staff.
So why couldn’t county staff use the same data to come up with four schools for the superintendent? It would have been quicker and easier. Now, parents keep having to return to these task force meetings, waving the same “Save our school” signs and making the same pleas to spare their schools.
With a $115 million deficit, DeKalb has to close schools. Is it an abdication of duty to push this unpleasant, unpopular and and time-consuming job onto a task force operating under incredible pressure and deadlines?
I believe the public has a right to be heard in this process, but I think they ought to be talking to the school board and superintendent and not 20 citizen volunteers.
What do you think?