Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crowded middle schools: Fulton Schools leaves redistricting option up for parent debate.

By D. Aileen Dodd
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fulton County parents are being asked to help decide whether redistricting is necessary to relieve overcrowding at the middle school level that is expected to worsen as the district grows in the next seven years.

Enlarge photo Jason Getz, Senator Vincent Fort, of District 39 representing Fulton County, disputes the proposed redistricting maps in the Georgia Senate at the State Capitol Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, Aug. 18, 2011.

Schools officials announced at a school board workshop Tuesday that the district’s K12 enrollment is projected to rise by a projected 6,000 new kids to nearly 99,000 students by 2018-19 thanks to the rebounding housing market in North Fulton and slow growth countywide. As the rosters swell, North Fulton middle schools are expected to be among the hardest hit.

Planners are giving parents a choice: The district could either use penny sales tax dollars to build a new North Fulton middle school and rezone kids or funds could be spent to expand existing campuses.

“We typically start the process with redistricting,” said Yngrid Huff, executive director of operational planning. “But we wanted to understand what the desires of our parents are.”

Huff said 53 additional classrooms are needed in North Fulton middle schools. Expanding some existing schools could minimize shuffling, she said.

Every North Fulton Middle School is on the table for consideration.

The construction will be paid for by Fulton's Special Local Option Sales Tax IV, which is expected to generate about $822 million through 2017.

The focus is on middle schools first because of the crowding issue and the interest parents have expressed in having direct links between middle and high schools. Elementary schools also will be built under the new SPLOST. The county has caught up to its enrollment needs in high schools so no new campuses are being planned, Huff said.

Two community meetings are scheduled this month for parents to share their ideas on growth in Fulton's middle schools. Hundreds are expected to attend and weigh in on the discussion.

The first forum is set for Monday at 7 p.m. at Taylor Road Middle. The next will be held on March 26 at Elkins Pointe Middle.

“It is great to get parent feedback first because we are the first line of defense for our children,” said Samantha Brown of Johns Creek who has a fourth grader at Shakerag Elementary. “Personally, I would rather see them make the schools and class sizes larger and increase the staff at middle schools.”

Suggestions made by parents at the community forums will be shared with school planners and board members.

“Most of our middle schools are sized to accommodate additional classrooms,” said Patrick Burke, chief operations officer for Fulton Schools.

Burke said staff is beginning to identify some possibilities, but wants to hear from parents first. A new middle school typically costs about $32 million, he said.

Additions don’t have the same construction costs, but can impact extra space in cafeterias and media centers, he said.

South Fulton is also expected to benefit from SPLOST dollars. A replacement school is planned for McNair Middle in College Park. It is slated to open in the fall of 2014.

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