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Clayton Schools prepare for countywide redistricting

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County school officials will spend the next 18 months reviewing, and redrawing, attendance zones for all of their 61 schools, to evenly spread out more than 50,000 students, Superintendent Edmond Heatley said this week.

Officials hope to correct attendance imbalances that have left some schools overcrowded, while others are under their capacity, the superintendent told members of the Clayton County Board of Education, on Monday.

He added that redrawing attendance lines will be an "in-house" initiative, conducted by school officials, using the district's "Edulog" transportation mapping system. Heatley said the effort will begin after 2010 census data is released for Clayton County.

"As we go forth, and try to be more fiduciary in our spending," he said, "I'm asking the board to allow us to look into consideration of rezoning and redistricting, so we'll have clean feeder patterns, as well as having a discussion about what to do with the empty seats, and how to bring maximum capacity ..."

As the school district goes through the process, its officials will look at the possibility of closing schools, to reduce the occurrence of empty seats in Clayton County classrooms, Heatley told the school board members.

Although he did not give an exact figure for how many empty seats there are, he did say there are more than 15,000 empty seats in the county's elementary schools.

"We now have to figure out, 'You're creating more empty seats, so what are you going to do with the facilities?'" Heatley said.

School System Spokesman Charles White said the superintendent came up with empty-seat figure by multiplying the number of classrooms in each school, by the maximum number of seats that can be fitted in a classroom. Heatley then compared it to the number of students enrolled at each school, the district's spokesman added.

Heatley's estimate was an eyebrow-raising figure, with School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson expressing skepticism about the accuracy of the numbers, on Wednesday. "That seems a little high," Jackson said.

The chief operations officer said he did not work with the superintendent to come up with the estimate, and suggested that while the total figure for all school types may be in the thousands, it is possibly lower than Heatley's 15,000 reference for the elementary schools alone.

Several parents and students have argued, in recent years, that their schools are overcrowded. As recently as the fall of this year, Morrow High School parents and students complained that their school is overcrowded and cramped.

Numbers aside, redistricting could give the school system a chance to straighten out attendance zones that have, sometimes, left people scratching their heads. In one example, when boundaries in the county's panhandle region were redrawn to account for the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, the redrawn attendance zones left Lovejoy Middle School a couple hundred yards outside of its own attendance zone.

School Board Chairperson Pamela Adamson, who represents the panhandle area, and school board member, Jessie Goree, called on district officials to take a hard look at redrawing the boundaries for the K-8 school.

"I really hope that you would take a look at the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, so a child who starts there in kindergarten can go all the way through the eighth-grade ... because the zoning is different for the middle grades, than for the elementary grades," Adamson said.

Goree later added, "We have people that actually live next door to [Eddie J. White K-8 Academy], and cannot attend the school, because of the way the attendance zones exist ... That's a school where we really need to look at zones right away."

She added that public forums should be held when tentative plans begin to form, so "there won't be any surprises" for parents when a redistricting plan is put in place.

But, Heatley's been criticized for redistricting, and for school closings in the past. When he was the superintendent of the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District, before coming to Clayton County in 2009, Heatley sought to shut down three neighborhood elementary schools, and faced organized resistance from parents.

School board member, Alieka Anderson, noted that other school systems in the Atlanta area, including neighboring DeKalb County, for example, are looking at closing schools, and redistricting.

"You know everybody wants their school to stay in their district, so we just want to prepare everybody, to let them know some schools may close," Anderson said.