Redistricting on 2-month hold

Redrawing Fayette County schools’ attendance zones has been put on hold, pending an unspecified property deal now being negotiated, according to Superintendent Jeff Bearden.

The delay left about 300 parents and students in attendance at the Oct. 15 meeting of the Board of Education without immediate answers.

Bearden’s recommendation for a delay of a “couple of months” followed an executive session near the beginning of the Board of Education meeting Monday night.

But the board’s approval of the recommendation did not dissuade more than 40 of the nearly 300 parents and students, largely from Peachtree City, from speaking in public comments and objecting to the potential of having children attend middle and high schools outside the city.

Bearden said that due to a potential property deal that had surfaced and might impact redistricting he was recommending that the work of the redistricting committee be put on hold.

Bearden said it could take a couple of months to determine if the property deal would be finalized. Bearden kept his remarks brief and did not identify the property under consideration.

There was no public explanation of how the property deal could affect drawing new attendance zone lines.

The school board unanimously approved the recommendation to have the redistricting committee “take time out from redistricting until it can be determined if the transaction will take place.” If the transaction takes place it could impact current redistricting efforts, Bearden said, adding that if it does not go through, the committee can pick up where it left off.

“It’s not prudent to continue to work until we know the outcome,” said Bearden.

The board decision also puts the work of the repurposing committee on hold.

The redistricting committee was formed during the summer to develop and recommend student attendance boundaries based on the two options identified by the school board. Option 1 included the potential closure of Hood Avenue Primary and Fayetteville Intermediate along with Fayette Middle, while option 2 dealt with the potential closure of Brooks and Tyrone elementary and Fayette Middle schools.

There has been some public speculation that schools closed in Fayetteville could be repurposed for other educational or even commercial uses. The property deal might fit into that scenario.

Also at the meeting, redistricting committee chair Mike Smith and repurposing committee chair Chris Horton gave brief reports on the current status of committee efforts.

The vote to put the work of the redistricting committee on hold notwithstanding, the large overflow audience at the meeting included a significant presence of Peachtree City parents and students. More than 40 signed up to speak during public comments.

Some said they had heard that the proposed redistricting plans included transferring some students to other middle and high schools other than Booth Middle and McIntosh High. Their comments included their opposition to those potential decisions.

Nearly all spoke with heartfelt concern over the idea of having their children be required to leave the community that they hold in high regard. The school students speaking during public comments echoed that sentiment.

Using a different approach, one speaker said she believed that requiring students to attend Flat Rock Middle School or Sandy Creek High School near Tyrone would “marginalize our children” while another said that transferring students to different schools would put them in a high-risk category for future psychological problems.

Though Monday night’s audience was a much larger group than those in previous meetings where parents and children from Tyrone and Brooks attended to plead their case for keeping their schools open, the sentiment and the rationale was essentially the same. Many understand the fiscal plight facing the school board and some acknowledged that action must be taken, but no one wanted their school to close or their students to be moved.

Despite being put on hold, the work of the redistricting committee is expected to resume once the outcome of the property transaction has been determined. The work parameters of the redistricting committee include:

• Serving as a voluntary advisory committee that will work with the superintendent and his staff creating attendance boundaries options for board consideration.

• Looking at the entire system during the redistricting process and make recommended changes that the committee believes will lead to greater efficiencies.

• Working to protect the integrity of neighborhoods and subdivisions.

• Using the “cluster” model in attempt to develop logical feeder patterns.

• Keeping in mind the distance students may have to travel to get to and from school.

The efforts of the repurposing committee is also expected to resume and will involve looking at other potential uses for the schools up for potential closure under options 1 and 2.