Opposition centered on traffic patterns, young drivers on narrow roads.
by Candy Waylock / Appen Newspapers
April 29, 2011
MILTON, Ga. -- Tensions flared during a community meeting April 19 that drew hundreds of residents wishing to weigh in on a proposed redistricting map for area high schools.
The meeting, held at Crabapple Crossing Elementary School, was the monthly meeting for Fulton School Board member Katie Reeves to discuss board matters. However, the vast majority of attendees came only to discuss the current draft of the map, which significantly changes the attendance boundaries of Milton High School in order to fill the new Bethany Bend high school.
Reeves devoted only one hour to the redistricting discussion, noting that the comment period was still open and that she had already received hundreds of emails on the subject. She emphasized the process was still in the hands of planning staff. The school board will not be fully involved in the process until it is presented with a recommended map at next month's board meeting.
"At this point, it's still a draft [map] and we are all in listening mode," said Reeves.
Prior to opening the meeting up to comments, Reeves and Patrick Burke, executive director of operations for Fulton Schools, went over the reasoning and rationale for the draft plan.
Burke, who oversees the Planning Department, attempted to assure the residents that every comment received from the community would be considered, as long as it pertained to the established criteria for redistricting. However, he cautioned that while every comment would be considered, it does not mean it would be acted upon.
"I can assure you that everybody has been heard," said Burke. "But because you've been heard doesn't mean you will always get your way. There are many, many voices in this process."He outlined the criteria used in redistricting, which includes geographic proximity, available programs and capacity as primary factors. Traffic patterns, previous redistrictings and feeder patterns are secondary criteria.
Burke quickly noted that the process does not mean that every student will attend their closest school. He explained schools must often be "back-filled," beginning with the furthest edges of the county lines. Schools may be filled before they can fit every home in geographic proximity.
The planning staff, Burke noted, looked at two ways of redistricting Milton and the new Bethany Bend high schools, including a north-south split and an east-west divide that essentially stacked the zones. In the end, the east-west divide was selected for the latest draft map, because it meant moving fewer students on the east side of Georgia 400, as well as from Roswell.
Burke noted the high schools on the east side of Ga. 400 were rezoned just two years ago with the opening of Johns Creek High School, and the communities there were very vocal in their wish to not be moved again.
Using a north-south split, he explained, would mean slicing deeper into those schools, creating a domino effect that touched nearly every high school zone. Plans A and B, which were presented during the second round of redistricting, provided the north-south split, but also moved upward of 3,000 students to fill 1,900 seats at Bethany Bend high school.
"There was a lot of movement on the east side of 400 [with a north-south split]," said Burke, who has been involved in redistricting for Fulton County for more than a decade. "The No. 1 rationale that staff works with is to minimize the total impact within the criteria."The current draft plan moves approximately 2,100 students, with most coming from Milton and Roswell high schools, along with smaller impacts to Alpharetta and Johns Creek high schools. No changes are proposed for Centennial and Chattahoochee high schools.
When pressed to answer why the proposed draft map conflicts with the north-south road pattern, Burke said traffic patterns are considered as part of the criteria to "optimize total system transportation cost."
Parents were concerned that high school drivers, with just a few years of driving experience, would be forced to travel backroads to get to school under the proposed map. Burke said ease of travel would be considered before a final map is recommended.
"Do we [consider] students driving, or look at travel patterns? I would say we look at traffic patterns," said Burke.
Parents asked Burke to find a way that keeps the east side of Ga. 400 intact, while taking into account a better traffic flow for Milton and Bethany Bend high schools.
"I know there are better solutions from your perspective, and we are looking at that as we speak," said Burke. "All of your comments are being considered. But we have to look at the whole North Fulton area. So what sounds like not looking at one community may mean looking at several other neighborhoods."Once the comment period began at last week's meeting, it quickly became obvious the answers to the community concerns would not be found within the one-hour time frame. The primary complaint centered on what many saw as a lack of listening on the part of the school staff, which they said built a map that dismissed their concerns in favor of other, louder, voices.
The Fulton School Board will receive a recommended map from the planning staff at its May meeting. Following a 30-day comment period, the board will likely vote on final approval for the map in June. The new attendance zones will go into effect with the opening of the high school on Bethany Bend in August 2012.
Under board policy, all rising sophomores, juniors and seniors can remain at their home school and graduate. No changes to that policy are under discussion.