County, school system experiencing growing pains

By Greg Gelpi

Classrooms are feeling the crunch of the county's continued growth.

According to projections, Clayton County will have 254,503 people next year and 325,851 people by 2025, but the Clayton County school system is already feeling the pressure of the growth.

"If you build it, they will come, and they are certainly coming," Cedric Wilkinson, whose family recently moved from New York to Jonesboro, said.

Wilkinson has seen class sizes swell in the past few months alone, he said. His daughter's fourth-grade class at Suder Elementary School grew from 22 students to 30 students this past year.

The growth, Wilkinson said, impacts learning and discipline.

"We were concerned about it because there were a lot of distractions in the class," he said. "We think it kind of affected her grades. Even the size of the classroom, they're just crammed in there."

With another subdivision popping up behind him, Wilkinson asked where those children will go to school.

"I'm glad that people are coming, but I don't know if schools are ready for this," he said.

Both Clayton County and Clayton County Public Schools are preparing for the growth.

"I think the whole metro area is having growing pains honestly," Theresa Crow, Clayton County's long range planner, said.

About a year ago, Clayton County adopted new procedures for approving developments, Crow said. Developers must submit requests to the planning and zoning commission and submit changes to the future land use map in the two-part process.

Clayton County is also in the midst of revising its comprehensive plan for the county. It will include plans for housing, transportation and other facets of the county's development.

The comprehensive plan will be adopted Oct. 31, but public hearings on the plan will be held before then. The first public hearing will be at 7 p.m. June 7 in the Clayton County Commissioners Boardroom.

"There's a lot of input coming from departments from throughout the county," Crow said, listing county departments, the school board, Clayton County Housing Authority and other agencies.

The Clayton County school system has been trying to keep pace with the county's growth. The system will open two new elementary schools in the fall, an attempt to cut down on the number of trailers serving as classrooms. Even the new schools, though, will have trailers.

"We're growing so rapidly in some areas we just can't keep up," said Ronnie Blake, the school system's assistant superintendent for Auxiliary Services, previously.

Blake said there isn't land to build schools in the areas that most need new schools.

To deal with state education funding cuts, the school board approved raising classroom sizes to the maximum allowed by the state.

The school board approved cutting 51 teaching positions, 44 physical education positions and two orchestra teaching positions to reduce expenses in March. The reductions will make overcrowded classrooms even more overcrowded.