14 DeKalb schools on proposed closure list

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fourteen DeKalb County schools could face closure next year.
On Monday night, the school board unveiled a comprehensive redistricting proposal that calls for 12 elementary schools to close: Livsey, Medlock, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Sky Haven, Toney, Peachcrest, Wadsworth and Kittredge. The proposal also calls for Avondale Middle and Avondale High to be closed and used to house magnet programs.
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.
Under the proposal, which calls for redrawing attendance lines, 12,900 to 16,100 of the school district’s 99,000 students would be sent to a new school next year.
“I know these are hard things, things that affect parents, teachers, students, but keep the goals in mind,” consultant Edward Humble told the board Monday.
Board member Eugene Walker said the proposal seemed rational, but he is concerned about the number of students disrupted.
“We are not like a General Motors or cost-savings assembly plant. We are dealing with children,” he said.
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.
South DeKalb also is one of metro Atlanta’s regions hardest hit by foreclosures.
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.
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.”
Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood, who complained of racism last year, said the consultants’ data was inaccurate and some south DeKalb schools are overcrowded.
“We want our children to learn. They can’t do that when they are packed in like sardines,” she said. “We want the kids to enjoy and have the same space that any other kid in this school system would have.”
Board member Don McChesney said he has heard many complaints from parents who would prefer to see school closures based on academics, rather than size. However, he said this criteria failed in other districts.
“What we need to remember is that buildings don’t make AYP. Students and teachers do,” he said.

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