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