Is DeKalb really ready to close 14 schools this time?

School closings are back on the table in DeKalb.

Consultants hired by the district have advised school closings similar to those recommended by a citizen task force last year. Both the task force and the consultants based their closure lists on schools that were losing enrollment.

But the task force ran into parental opposition, political posturing and internal divides that undermined its many hours of work. It seems likely this new list of closures will provoke similar public outcries and political battling.

According to the AJC, the consultants’ closing list includes Livsey, Medlock, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Sky Haven, Toney, Peachcrest, Wadsworth and Kittredge. The recommendation also calls for Avondale Middle and Avondale High to be closed and used to house magnet programs.

The proposal calls for: moving Livsey students to Brockett, Midvale and Smoke Rise; moving Medlock students to Avondale, Laurel Ridge and McLendon; moving Rock Chapel students to Pine Ridge and Princeton; and moving Bob Mathis students to Oak View and Rainbow. Students at Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Sky Haven, Toney, Wadsworth and Peachcrest go to Avondale, Rowland, Knollwood, Midway, Snapfinger, Cabby Lane, Clifton, Columbia, Flat Shoals and Kelley Lake.

According to the AJC:

The closures are needed to eliminate 11,000 empty seats county-wide. DeKalb is the state’s third largest district, but has more buildings than any other system in Georgia. The schools were identified after a six-month analysis by consultants, MGT of America, which were paid $400,000 to review data.

The district will next hold several public hearings. A final vote is scheduled on Feb. 28.

The majority of the schools on the proposed closures are in the south end of the county, which is home primarily to African-American families. Board chairman Tom Bowen insisted the schools were chosen based on empty seats, not race or academics.

“South DeKalb is where most of the under population is,” Bowen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “However, we took a countywide approach this time to push some of the overcrowding to the south end too.”

Last year, the school board assembled a citizen’s task force and conducted public hearings to identify possible schools to close. But after complaints, near fights and allegations of racism from parents – and even some school board members – the board decided to postpone the closures. Instead, the board hired consultants who found much of the same results: south DeKalb houses most of the empty seats.

School officials said they could not out an exact dollar amount on the 11,000 empty seats, but said the district, which has an approximate budget of $1 billion, has lost millions of dollars in state funding. This includes annual state operations funding to pay for expenses like art and music teachers, and capital improvement funds to renovate and build new schools.

DeKalb currently has 21 elementary schools that have such low enrollments they are not receiving state funding for some programs, which means local tax dollars fund the difference.

“This is not only to address empty seats, but to maximize state dollars,” Bowen said. “What we have to remember is we are looking to put our students in the best possible school.”

– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

105 comments Add your comment

unbelievable

January 3rd, 2011
10:42 pm

DeKalb is now the worst school system. Enjoy working for those greedy admins, and watching the kids go down the drain. I think it’s about time to leave GA.

oldtimer

January 3rd, 2011
10:56 pm

Good Luck fixing this…We played Avondale in 1969 and beat them in “Death Valley”…their home stadium.So maybe Avondale will be a magnet football powerhouse!.. They used to be…Livesy and Smoke Ride were the best!!!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AJC , Erica N. and others. Erica N. said: OMG they talking about closing my HS RT @ajc: RT @AJCGetSchooled: Is DeKalb really ready to close 14 schools this time? http://bit.ly/hYMnKZ [...]

Ernest

January 3rd, 2011
11:33 pm

It will be interesting to see if the Board has the ‘intestinal fortitude’ to see a recommendation like this through. It will be unpopular and it won’t be easy. If the school district does not follow through with something like this, there will be additional staff reductions. Labor costs are the largest expenditure (88%) so it will be difficult to cut other areas and make an impact on the budget.

DeKalb has too many schools. The small neighborhood school model that made DeKalb a great system in the past is too expensive to maintain. If the recent AJC article is true about homes still being somewhat inflated in value, property tax revenues could shrink again.

This recommendation could also save construction dollars for enlargement projects currently on the table. Add to the fact that they would be in better shape to recover additional dollars from the state, so the remaining schools can be refurbished.

T

January 3rd, 2011
11:51 pm

Instead of the $15000 raise that superintendent got, he should give that back to help close the budget gap. How could he even be given a raise when there is a shortfall in the budget? This makes no sense whatsoever. No business would do this. Why would the school system?. Closing the the schools like Livesey makes no sense at all since it is one of the best in the area. It is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. The 400K that this consultant got should have also been used to help close the gap. Hiring consultants eas most likely done to cover their rear end. No wonder Dekalb school system has a bad name!!!!

Fire the baord and start over again!!

Leisha

January 3rd, 2011
11:53 pm

Just recently sat in on a meeting with board members at Kittredge talking about NOT closing the Kittredge program. Are they consultants considering moving it to Avondale (intact) or closing the program altogether? How will closing this school (program) which is full, accomplish the stated goal of closing schools with empty seats? So you push them back out into their home schools, for what? It’s still only fills 400 seats. Yes, it closes a building but the report on this school was fine, I just don’t get it.

Did you see the mushroom cloud over the Chamblee/Dunwoody area?! Moving the magnet out of Chamblee High/Middle to Avondale? Next BOE meeting should be fun.

I just can’t fathom moving/closing the magnets. I don’t see tearing something that works, apart. Kittredge shouldn’t be closed, we are talking about 400+ kids in a school that works. For those who argue…look at the test scores.

A

January 3rd, 2011
11:59 pm

Don’t give raises during a budget shortfall. Instead, use the raises to avoid the school closures especially great schools like Livesy. There must be some hidden motives here. Why can’t they close the bad schools and have their students be sent to good schools like livesey if indeed livesey has open seats. Our confidence on the board to do the right thing is zero!!

M

January 4th, 2011
12:04 am

Let the school system be run by a private company away from all of the politics and ineffciencies and there won’t be a budget deficit. Goverment is not generally efficinet at running things especially a school system. We would have the best schools with budget surplus!!

Toto: speakin' the truth to power

January 4th, 2011
12:06 am

“The recommendation also calls for Avondale Middle and Avondale High to be closed and used to house magnet programs.”

Maureen, aside from the Avondale schools, your article doesn’t mention what will be done with the remaining twelve schools. Will they go on the auction block? Did this $400,000 consulting firm do a real estate appraisal? I thought the original idea behind public school is that they would be supported by local property taxes. This would give local landwoners a powerful voice to put the “public” in public schools. Somehow over the years, the public schools wanted to live beyond their means and became addicted to state and federal funding. Now they cannot survive without federal funding. Now the problem is that the federal government is insolvent by TRILLIONS of dollars. Each citizen needs to ask themselves how this happened.

Andrew Jackson fought this same battle during his two terms. He saw the central bank as the enemy of the people and successfully shut it down by not renewing its charter. This is the only time in America’s history that she did not have national debt. Here are the reasons he was against the Second Bank of the United States:

It concentrated the nation’s financial strength in a single institution.
It exposed the government to control by foreign interests.
It served mainly to make the rich richer.
It exercised too much control over members of Congress.
It favored northeastern states over southern and western states.
Banks are controlled by a few select families.
Banks have a long history of instigating wars between nations, forcing them to borrow funding to pay for them.

Check out the history of out national debt and you will see what happened after Jackson left us with zero debt. By 1913, the banksters made a comeback and persuaded Congress to pass the Federal Reserve Act, one again giving control of the nation’s wealth to a central bank. As they cranked out fiat dollars, wealth appeared to increase, but it was an illusory bubble which is currently popping with the loudest bang in the history of the world!
http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_debt_chart.html#usgs101
Also, Russia’s Putin is acting quite Jacksonian. Not much has changed after all.
http://www.rense.com/general92/haild.htm

Toto: speakin' the truth to power

January 4th, 2011
12:25 am

Wow, CBS wakes up from its 100 year nap and actually reports on the national debt…
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20027090-503544.html
“National Debt Tops $14 Trillion”

Robert

January 4th, 2011
1:01 am

A lot of the “black” schools are underpopulated because their parents send their kids to the north end of the county, thinking they will get a better education there.

Everyone should have to go to school in their own district, UNLESS they choose to pay for a PRIVATE school.

Done With It

January 4th, 2011
1:44 am

As a tax payer and registered voter, I feel that this is the best move the county could make. Run the school system as a private company and see the changes. Children adjust, that is just what they do, parents just pout and make it worse. Grow up folks, one person’s pay raise will not make the difference but closing so many schools that are not needed will make the difference. IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE IN THIS COUNTY, THIS IS A MOVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION! You have my vote…. FAIR TAX!

d

January 4th, 2011
6:24 am

@A – Livsey has so few students that it doesn’t make sense to leave it open. The teachers would follow the students to the new school, but think about this: If a school doesn’t have 450 students, the school doesn’t qualify for the state to pay for art/music/PE teachers. Why do you want to use up local dollars supplementing those programs all in the name of a building? We can’t go on protecting buildings at the cost of the students inside of those buildings. It isn’t fair to those students.

Private School Guy

January 4th, 2011
6:38 am

The DeKalb BOE and the AJC need to get some geographic facts straight. The proposed closing sites are all in the western portion of the county. Some are in the north west some are in the southwest. The western portion of the county has older suburban neighborhoods with fewer school age children. This is true of most older suburban neighborhoods who have yet to see the renewal and gentrification that has taken in such as neighborhoods closer to the central city such as Decatur, Druid Hills and Candler Park. To ignore this and present the situation as a north south issues creates spin that is unneeded and unhealthy for the county. Please look at a map before making these statements.

Write Your Board Members

January 4th, 2011
6:45 am

The magnet programs would be moved not closed.

redweather

January 4th, 2011
7:08 am

According to the DCSS website, Livsey has 354 students. It’s a small schools with some major achievements, including: 2008 NCLB Blue Ribbon School; 2007 Georgia School of Excellence for Academic Achievement iin the Top 10% Category; 2006 Platinum Award for the Highest Percentage of Students Meeting and Exceeding Standards, given by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement under the Single Statewide Accountability System; 2005 Gold Award for the Highest Percentage of Students Meeting and Exceeding Standards, given by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement under the Single Statewide Accountability System. Check out the achievements for the other schools on the list and you will notice a distinct difference.

susan

January 4th, 2011
7:10 am

@ d…Livsey actually has so many students that some of the grades are in trailers. There are children from other districts that are there and many more that would like to go to Livsey because it is such a good school. I bought my house in Tucker so that my daughter could go to Livsey. Luckily, my daughter is in fifth grade, so she won’t need to change shools. I fell badly for the kids that will have to be moved. Personally, I feel much of this is about politics first, the children second.

Vince

January 4th, 2011
7:17 am

The proposal is a good one. It is overdue. Yes, there will be yelling, screaming and gnashing of teeth. If logic and common sense can prevail over emotion and conspiracy theories this will be the best thing that could happen to Dekalb schools.

@Leisha….Kittredge has high test scores because it only enrolls gifted and very high achieving students. It has nothing to do with the school itself. It is an artificial set up.

Vince

January 4th, 2011
7:20 am

@redweather…

Yes, Livsey is in a great neighborhood where the parents are financially well off and their children do well in school…..but it is too small to operate feasibly. The children will do just as well in nearby schools.

DeKalb mom

January 4th, 2011
7:38 am

Could DeKalb possibly punish high-achieving kids (and their parents) even more? Let’s see- they propose tearing apart the highest performing school and moving the kids to an educationally inadequate dump so that they will never benefit from the new CCHS that is to be built. And this is intereesting: Chamblee is on the 7 period schedule, SW is on a block and DSA is on a modified block. How do they propose to combine these schools?

Also, the whole point of having two sets of high achiever magnet schools was to expand the program and have them closer to residents. DCSS should eliminate all magnet transportation, not increase it by having more students traveling longer distances.

And why is the brand new, beautiful, huge (and under-utilized) Arabia Mountain high school exempt from all redistricting? Why does this school get to hand pick its students but remain untouchable?

Write Your Board Members

January 4th, 2011
7:49 am

I think the block is going away this year.

A third of Livsey’s students come from outside the attendance zone making the actual number of children who would be redistricted much smaller.

Most of DCSS’ high achieving students are not in magnet programs, but in neighborhood schools that have inadequate instructional resources.

George P Burdell

January 4th, 2011
8:01 am

Folks- we need to realize that these are unusual times and that we all have to make sacrifices. This includes our children.

DeKalb County’s expenses are up, revenue is down, and is in the middle of a bid rigging scandle at the highest level that erodes all confidence in the Board’s abilty to oversee and the DCSS’s ability to carry out it’s purpose.

It really is time to blow it up and start over. We just held elections and after all these issues- 7 of 9 folks were re-elected. The question is- will the board have the courage to make the adjustment to face the new reality or will they continue to operate in the red and not fund teacher’s retirement, etc. There are much bigger issues going on in DeKalb county than 14 schools.

I am personally not optimistic, but hope I am surprised.

Dr NO

January 4th, 2011
8:03 am

Very good idea and about time.

What they need to do!!

January 4th, 2011
8:13 am

As a 2008 graduate from Dekalb County School System, I am not surprise at the findings. I believe that the county as a whole needs to focus on eliminating the empty seats and then focus on the lack of intelligent, diligent and professional staff in some of these schools.

DeKalb Educated

January 4th, 2011
8:15 am

Just returned from Charleston where their high achievement magnet program is ranked Number 1 in the Nation. Why? It is a true magnet program unlike Chamblee. It is time DeKalb began to truly demonstrate their desire for a strong academic program in their school system. Businesses do not want to locate in a county or a state with weak educational school systems. They want their employees to have access to well developed academic programs. They want a strong, well educated work force. Can DeKalb provide that? Can Georgia? A strong magnet program would do much to enhance our school system. We need to keep Kittredge and make a middle school and high school magnet programs that are true magnets for high achieving students, students that excel in science and math. An international program that promotes the study of foreign languages, international history and economics. DeKalb has had short-sighted leadership with no vision. They have been more interested in hiring relatives into chushy jobs in the county than in promoting education. There is no support for the teachers in many of the schools. The teachers do not have the resources to teach – no supplies, inadequate facilities and no parental support. Many schools have an influx of students that come and go and it is impossible to meet AYP with such a transient lot. Discipline? How? When? Parents? Those schools like Livsey and Kittredge for years have succeeded because of parental involvement. If DeKalb was smart (which we know they are not), they would have parents involved – required – from baking cookies to showing up for Parent-Teacher conferences to planting trees to cleaning windows. Don’t give me that they are working 2-3 jobs and do not have time. They make time like most of us did who worked and got our children to school on time every day. We may not have been there during the day, but we managed to make a work day or a conference. I find those parents who cannot make a parent-teacher meeting always manage to show up for the soccer or football games. We need to raise expectations for our students and parents and not place it all upon the teachers. Closing under used schools to save money is a beginning but let’s see the BOE have the testicular fortitude to really make the tough decisions and start getting rid of board relatives, shut down the TV show of DeKalb on cable, cut Central Office jobs and return more qualified teachers to the classroom.

Really?!!!

January 4th, 2011
8:19 am

We have our huge houses, we spend needlessly to impress ourselves and others with expensive cars and luxury items; yet, we seemingly cannot afford to put money into our communities and do what is needed to help provide for the youth and the needy. Ladies and Gentlemen… Wake Up! We saw what happen to Clayton County,.. will we continue to sell our souls?????

Double Zero Eight

January 4th, 2011
8:23 am

They need to go ahead and make the tough choices.
It is not going to get any easier. It appears the
$400,000 paid to a consulting firm was a waste
of money.

EnoughAlready

January 4th, 2011
8:31 am

What idiots came up with the decision to fund schools based upon population (450), especially due to the fact that population changes over time? In 20 years, the northside of Dekalb could be facing the same problems and the shift could come back to the southside. Then the population would require building new schools.

There should be a better plan in place so that the people of Dekalb won’t have to go through this dumb process 25 years from now. I don’t think the process has been fully thought out and is just a rush to solve the situation as it exist today and HECK with the future.

Dr NO

January 4th, 2011
8:32 am

Might as well close more than 14 schools as most of the children are little truants, dont want to learn, would rather be doing drive-bys or joining gangs. Perhaps the money saved by closing these schools could be spent building some prisons to house these little miscreants.

lucky21

January 4th, 2011
8:36 am

@ Vince – Yes, Livsey is a fantastic school and NO not all of the parents in this area are “well off”. I will say that most of the parents who do live in this area, live here so our children can attend Livsey, we all recognize the value of a smaller school where the principal knows every child by name and when one child is struggling, they can get the attention that is needed. I will not have my child lost in an overcrowded school. I’ll move before I let that happen.
A George- I will NEVER sacrifice my child’s education for anything. I will do the sacrificing for him to receive a great education (which he is receiving currently but apparently my tax dollars should go to benefit someone else’s child instead of my own)and it looks as if I will be doing some sacrificing soon…private school here we come.

Doris M

January 4th, 2011
9:14 am

Closing schools has always been a tough job. But in light of today’s economy, it must be done. Parents will loudly complain but in the end all will settle down and the winners will be the children and the taxpayers.
Cut the fat Dekalb!

Whatever

January 4th, 2011
9:39 am

Let a private company run it… not the BOE.

lulu

January 4th, 2011
9:55 am

@M & Whatever – I’ve seen it; APS has done it with their alternative school. IIRC, it wasn’t a complete disaster but did not turn out well. As far as I can tell, the only thing that rises when private companies run public schools is the amount of money necessary to run them, because those companies don’t come cheap! Private companies have many of the same issues, but additionally they’re more worried about revenue than anything else.

I’m not saying I’m completely against the idea, but I have little faith that it will really make a difference. Before you start shouting that private companies are better than publicly run systems, you might want to do some checking into those companies and see if you really believe that will improve anything.

hneal

January 4th, 2011
9:55 am

What’s to become of the empty schools? It would be tragic to watch them fall apart and become dens of crime in their vacancy.

Hurricane

January 4th, 2011
10:09 am

DeKalb needs to face reality and downsize the schools that are being underutilized. As Private School Guy stated. many of these schools are located in older suburban areas where there has been a decline in school aged kids.

For one time, the DeKalb School Board needs to make some tough, unpopular decisions to insure the future success of the district as a whole.

Shar

January 4th, 2011
10:27 am

Ms. Downey, your headline is backwards. The real issue here is whether DeKalb is ready to pander to interest groups at a time of economic pain and maintain 14 under-utilized schools. They have already doubled the amount of taxpayer money they needed to spend in order to identify the most appropriate schools to close and to develop a plan for doing so. Has the Board finally reached the end of their expensive denial, or are their entrenched bureaucratic interests still outweighing the wellbeing of the district as a whole? With seven of the nine members returned by the voters, I’d bet they’ll kick the can a bit farther down the road.

Dr. Tim

January 4th, 2011
10:55 am

Does anyone in DeKalb really care about kids? If they did, they would elect a school board with some dignity.

Chamblee Parent

January 4th, 2011
11:10 am

The magnet program and the Chamblee resident program work well together and make public schools a great choice for ALL Chamblee area families. Moving the magnet would ruin the magnet AND Chamblee.

Jay

January 4th, 2011
11:22 am

Sweet gig: Get paid six figures to have consultants do your work.

B. Killebrew

January 4th, 2011
11:33 am

I looked over the proposals.

I just don’t think they should close Livsey, Medlock, or the Avondales. Kittredge/the Old Nancy Creek Elementary should definitely be opened back up.

And what about Arabia Mountain High School? Should become a normal high school.

Get rid of theme schools and “separate” magnets.

Magnets should be embedded within schools.

Todd

January 4th, 2011
11:45 am

Closing schools should be based on performance and attendance. Closing a high performance school like Livsey doesn’t make any sense. Shoving those students into underachieving schools hurts the entire community and just dumbs down the population. The underachieving schools should be the ones to close. Put those students in schools that perform well and they might have a chance at a good education. Don’t punish students who do well by shipping them off to other schools.

glacialspeed

January 4th, 2011
11:57 am

This thing affects more than just parents and students. I do not have kids, but I recently bought a house in the Livsey school district, in part because Livsey’s reputation increased the value of the house. If they redistrict as proposed, my house will not be worth what I paid for it. I’m sure DeKalb will be sure to keep my property tax at the old levels, though.

another comment

January 4th, 2011
12:00 pm

Here is an idea of what should be done with the 14 empty schools, they should be converted into housing. The elementry schools could easily be renovated into an elderly housing complex. They are basically one storey buildings. Each class room already has some plumbing coming to it. Each class room could be converted to a 1 bedroom or efficiency apartment for an elderly person. The cafe could be used for evening meals and crafts through the day. The schools are ideal conversion projects as the baby boomers age. They were built to educate the baby boomers and now they can be converted to house the baby boomers.

Instead of hiring expensive consultants for the preliminary design plans of this conversion to elderly housing, Dekalb schools should just announce a design contest with the Architecture Students from Georgia Tech, Southern Tech and SCAD. You would really see what the young up and coming designers could do to make these extra schools vibrant again.

EnoughAlready

January 4th, 2011
12:07 pm

Great Idea!!! If not housing for the elderly; definitely community centers and after school programs.

Laura

January 4th, 2011
12:09 pm

That’s a fantastic suggestion from “another comment”! I’m in favor of turning the DeKalb BOE structure upside down; teachers should be at the TOP of the food chain and paid the most, with administrators at the BOTTOM of the pay scale, and primarily on a part time basis with no pension benefits because we cant pay for those either! Some of the administrators are so fat with our tax dollars they look like they EAT children.

Dr NO

January 4th, 2011
12:25 pm

Housing for the elderly…YES.
Community centers and after school programs…Absolutely NOT. These out of control little vagrants will destroy these buildings.

KMM

January 4th, 2011
12:25 pm

Livsey is NOT a school full of well-off kids. Most homes are smaller ranches, many built in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s a great school because the parents are so involved. Splitting those parents up into three so-so schools, will not make those schools suddenly great schools. Many parents moved into Livsey specifically to send their kids to that school – they’ll move out as soon as they possibly can. It doesn’t feed to Henderson/Lakeside so some folks have already been moving out to get into Oak Grove, Evansdale, etc – when they can afford it.

Makes sense

January 4th, 2011
1:04 pm

It makes sense to me…. what I don’t understand is why is enrollment so low in south dekalb. Have all the famalies with school aged children moved out or do they go to private schools? It’s always sad when a neighborhood school closes but these are tough economic times and some adjustments have to be made even if they are unpopolar. I can only imagine how much it cost to heat and cool an almost empty bldg. As a taxpayer I want to see my tax dollars get the most bang for their bucks.

IPA Dad

January 4th, 2011
1:09 pm

Will the new Avondale High Magnet open up more seats than what Chamblee Magnet offer’s now? The wife and I plan on entering the lottory again this year for magnet, hopefully the new format will increase our daughter odds of getting in. Dekalb School Choice = Hobson’s choice!

Concerned parent

January 4th, 2011
1:19 pm

The Dekalb BOE needs to make some tough choices and unfortunately, not all parents will be happy. What cannot happen is that we maintain the status quo. We are losing too much money and our children are losing too much opportunity by doing things the way we currently are. What I feel is short-sighted by this proposal is that the corresponding Master Plan will not be ready until later in the Spring. What good does it do to know what will happen for 2011-12 if the recommendations are only going to further change for future years. In MGT’s proposal, they say they want to create elementary schools with 900 students, middle schools with 1200 students and high schools with 1600 students. If you look at the data provided beyond the school closure list, you’ll see that these proposed changes don’t get us to these numbers at most of the schools. To me, it seems more appealing to reveal the “full plan” at once, especially if it means that some kids will see changes every year until we reach a final solution.

To all of the parents, I really encourage you to think about what is best for the county and for all of our students. EVERY child should have the opportunity to learn art, music, PE, language and have the technology resources necessary to excel in today’s world. Not all of our schools offer these opportunities to all of our students. And frankly, parents shouldn’t have to pay out of their pockets to hire a music teacher in order for their kids to have this experience and education (fortunately, the parents at my child’s school were able to do this). In order to provide these options to all students, changes must be made. Will you like all of them? No. Do I think your child’s education should suffer? No. But if you don’t like the changes imposed on you, then move, send your child to private school or take other steps to ensure that your child gets the education they deserve. And I get it that some of those alternatives aren’t easy. But these aren’t easy time and there aren’t going to be solutions that are easy for everyone. Suck it up if you’re on the short-end of the stick.