By Jason Wright
Milton — Admitting that school officials "blew it" when drawing new attendance zones for Cogburn Woods Elementary, Fulton Superintendent Cindy Loe offered parents the option to move children to other area schools, and said attendance lines could be redrawn for next school year.
Loe, along with Board of Education members, has been inundated with complaints from Cogburn Woods' parents who complain enrollment is over 1,000 students in a school built for 850. Cogburn Woods had been forecast to enroll 908.
Parents at Cogburn Woods have until Oct. 5 to request a hardship transfer to either Birmingham Falls or Summit Hill elementary schools. Transportation must be provided by the parents and the expectation is the students finish out the year at the new school.
School officials said capacity at the transfer schools will be determined by available seats within each grade level using the existing teacher/student ratios.
Elementary schools with 1,000 students are not uncommon in Fulton County, and Cogburn Woods has had numbers nearly that high in past school years. However, parents maintain the number should not be that high in the year after redistricting.
Attendance zones at nearly every North Fulton school east of Ga. 400 were redrawn last year with the opening of Birmingham Falls Elementary.
Schools within the vicinity of Cogburn Woods, including Alpharetta, Manning Oaks, Summit Hill and Birmingham Falls elementaries, were all within 1 percent to 4 percent of enrollment projections.
System wide, actual enrollment missed forecasted numbers by only 31 out of 90,000 students, noted Loe. In fact, at the 99 schools in the Fulton School system, only five had actual enrollment significantly over projection. But for parents at Cogburn Woods, system wide numbers don't matter when their own school is overcrowded.
"Cogburn Woods is 161 over [capacity] and growing, right after redistricting," said parent Donna Allen. "[My fear is] if the school board was so off on their projections – by at least 12 percent this year - what does that mean for next year?"
In Roswell, Esther Jackson Elementary was also 10 percent over projections; however, parent outcry has not reached the level at Cogburn Woods.
The hardship transfer used for Cogburn Woods is under Loe's direction and therefore does not require school board approval.
Loe promised the attendance lines for Cogburn Woods will also be revisited, with an option that some areas may move back to Manning Oaks Elementary next year. The system will conduct an evaluation when projections for next year are available in January.
While the transfer options and the revisiting of attendance lines is unprecedented, the options still did not mollify some parents, who asked why they had to leave to make way for students who are new to the school. The suggestion that lines could be redrawn at the mid-year break in December fired up Alpharetta board member Katie Reeves.
"I'm not going to make a family move in the middle of the year, and as a board member I wouldn't do it," said Reeves.
Cogburn parents had problem peggedDuring the redistricting process last year, which consisted of three community meetings to gather input on proposed lines, parents at Cogburn Woods voiced their concerns that the projected enrollment for the school was too low under the redrawn lines.
At the time, Manning Oaks Elementary was bursting at the seams with over 1,000 students, as was Summit Hill Elementary, which also needed relief.
When Cogburn Woods took on a large part of the Manning Oaks attendance zone, parents said student numbers were certain to rise beyond projection. They noted lower priced housing and apartments were being drawn into the Cogburn Woods' zone – the only real estate sector that was growing in the sinking economy.
Fulton Schools Superintendent Cindy Loe acknowledged that these concerns were valid, and not taken into account by planners."I've gone back and read every one of the letters you sent to us and have to admit everything you said was right," admitted Loe. "Our issue now is how we can make the best of this situation."