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More parents speak out about BOE redistricting plan

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  After hearing dozens of negative comments last month about a proposed plan to change district lines affecting several schools, members of the Henry County Board of Education faced another packed auditorium Monday night as residents came out hoping to convince the school board to say (paraphrasing a popular slogan in the national healthcare debate): “If you like your school, you can keep your school.”

  Three different maps were designated last month for a 60-day public comment period. The most controversial of those would move an estimated 200-250 students along the Hwy. 42 corridor and off Brannan Road from Union Grove to Eagle’s Landing (both middle and high schools).

Picket signs displayed by parents at the Monday school board meeting indicate their displeasure.          Photo by Monroe Roark

  School system officials said the move was partly to alleviate overcrowding at Union Grove, which now has a large number of trailers. Renovations underway at Eagle’s Landing will be completed in time to handle this influx of students next fall.

  As was the case last month, residents from the subdivisions affected by the proposal were adamant in their demand to stay put. They cited such issues as the academic performance at Union Grove and transportation difficulties that would be created by the change. Several of the speakers were students who pleaded with the board not to move them.

  More than 1,000 fliers have been distributed to homes in all of the affected subdivisions, according to one parent who addressed the board. She added that a second flier is ready for printing and distribution to homes along Jodeco Road, notifying them that traffic will increase on that thoroughfare should the new map be approved and that Eagle’s Landing is in danger of becoming a Title I school, although she did not elaborate on that point.

  Another speaker identified himself as an attorney who had been retained by some of the concerned parents. He cited enrollment data over recent years and said he could make a strong case that the redistricting “would make white schools whiter and black schools blacker.” This, he asserted, would open up the school system to a costly lawsuit that should be avoided.

  Several people at the meeting brought picket signs which were displayed before the meeting and left in the lobby during the actual discussion. Most of them were from the St. Andrews subdivision, which is off Brannan Road and, according to one parent, would be the farthest from the Eagle’s Landing school complex.

  Another St. Andrews resident said that Union Grove High School’s enrollment has dropped 26 percent since its peak in 2006, and he suggested that the overcrowding problem is already correcting itself. He also opined that the school system appears to have mismanaged SPLOST money by using it to expand Eagle’s Landing.

  A portion of the audience came out to protest another proposed map that would facilitate the closing of Smith-Barnes Elementary, and although they were fewer in number than the previous group, they were just as passionate.

  Smith-Barnes and Stockbridge Elementary currently are the only schools not under the same elementary model as the rest of the county in that Stockbridge serves kindergarten through third grade while Smith-Barnes is for grades 4-5.

  Under the proposal, both schools would be consolidated at the Stockbridge campus to create a true K-5 elementary school. To do this, school officials would have to compensate for the influx of students by transferring some of them to Cotton Indian Elementary, which can accommodate more students than are currently enrolled.

  Should this map be approved, officials would then consider what to do with the Smith-Barnes campus. One idea that has been suggested is to make it the campus of Patrick Henry High School, whose current campus – the old Stockbridge High School site – is by far the oldest facility in the school system, according to a spokesperson.

  Regarding both maps, a number of parents repeated concerns aired last month about an apparent lack of transparency, alleging that school system officials had been working on them for some time without letting citizens get involved in the discussion.

  The maps will likely be considered and voted on at the December regular meeting. They are currently accessible on the school system’s web site, www.henry.k12.ga.us, by going to the right side of the home page and clicking on “For Public Review and Comment” under the “Site Shortcuts” column.

 

 

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