The AJC is receiving many pleas to save the Fernbank Science Center, which is operated by the cash-strapped DeKalb County School District. Last week, the school board’s budget committee recommended closing the decades-old institution.
As the AJC reported last week: Fernbank Science Center, which includes a planetarium, is near the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, which is operated by a separate nonprofit. At an annual cost of $4.7 million, the building and its 56 full-time employees now are looking like a luxury to school officials. They are struggling with a $73 million deficit, and may have to cut teachers and school days to balance the budget.
Here is one of the pleas to keep the center open. It is from ecologist Al Tate, an instructor at the Fernbank Science Center
By Al Tate
There is so much misinformation about Fernbank Science Center appearing on the blogs and elsewhere in the press. Sure Fernbank Science Center is a neat place to bring your children and learn about nature and science. However that is only a small part of what Fernbank Science Center is and does.
Fernbank Science Center is an integral part of the DeKalb County School District. Every school day Fernbank Science Center instructors are found in schools throughout the county teaching a wide variety of science topics and supporting the local school curriculum, and every day students arrive at Fernbank Science Center (or a variety of other locations around the county like Stone Mountain, Hidden Acres Nature Preserve, Arabia Mt.) to take classes from instructors, see the planetarium, use scientific equipment.
After school hours, on weekends and through the summer, Fernbank instructors are teaching advanced studies classes in physics, chemistry, ecology, ornithology, helping DeKalb students with competitive science events like Science Olympiad, Science Fair Projects, Robotics, Envirothon (new state champions), and others; visiting teachers across the county helping them with establishing Nature Trails, vegetable gardens, water gardens, wildflower gardens on their campus so there will be resources on site for students to learn science curriculum from the real world instead of just reading a book and taking a test; teaching staff development courses to DeKalb teachers and visiting their classroom, providing them with additional resources and techniques for instruction.
Fernbank Science Center’s Scientific Tools and Techniques program is one of the most innovative and intense science education programs found anywhere for high school students. Students are selected from all schools in the county for this one semester program. Program alumni are always at the top of the charts and lead the state in their results on the End of Course Tests.
This year, Fernbank Inc. has decided not to renew Fernbank Science Center’s 45 lease on Fernbank Forest, so some people think that Fernbank Science Center will no longer have our forest classes. NOT TRUE! Working with the DeKalb County Parks and Recreation Department, we have already identified a number of parks around the county where our current forest classes will be taught and instructors will be working through the summer to develop some new classes tailored to take full advantage of the different locations. These will be designed to serve nearby schools so that transportation costs will be minimal.
Fernbank Science Center is funded at $4.7. That is 0.6 percent of the DeKalb school budget. If it gets cut, Fernbank Science Center is gone forever because, once the science center closes the property goes back to Fernbank Inc.
The potential for Fernbank Science Center to help the county obtain funding through grants, partnerships, etc. has barely been tapped. Fernbank Science Center staff is unique: not only are there top quality educators with advanced degrees, but also hard scientists in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, geology, ecology, biology, astronomy, and others. No other school system has such a facility.
What a draw for DeKalb Schools in this era of our national struggle to educate more scientists and engineers. Instructors/staff at Fernbank Science Center are there because we are passionate about teaching children. We are part of the DCSD family and want to help forge a solution to our budget problems.
Getting rid of Fernbank Science Center will not only hurt the school system. Potential new DeKalb Citizens will be looking for high quality educational opportunities for their children. Business and industry wants to locate were their employees will find good schools; schools that can produce quality future employees. We are now in a vicious loop with declining home values reducing the tax base and decimating our school budget. If we don’t make wise decisions about where and how to cut the budget, we will exacerbate the already declining situation with our schools, drive away our new citizen prospects and – worse – damage our children’s future.
Please do not kill the goose that lays golden eggs.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog