The Clarke County School District faces major attendance changes for its elementary school students as attendance zones convert optional school attendance to mandatory zoning in the upcoming 2009-2010 school year.
Four attendance areas existed in the previous plan in which parents got to choose from up to four schools to place their children, said Cheryl Phillips, administrative assistant in the public relations office at the Athens Clarke County Board of Education. The attendance areas have now been rezoned and, after a period of transitional exceptions, optional schools have been eliminated.
“The Choice Assignment Plan was started in the school year of 1995-1996,” Phillips said. “Parents ranked their options of schools and up to 96 percent received their first choice.”
Changes are being made due to three reasons, Phillips said. “We need to provide certainty to families in the registration process, equalize enrollment, and reduce transportation costs. “
“The number one reason for changing the Choice Assignment Plan is because of Athens’ increased transportation costs,” Phillips said. “Athens has one of the highest transportation costs in the state.”
Clarke County spends almost double the state average in transportation costs per student, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
The Board of Education’s new zones were designed to create more efficient transportation patterns and to equalize enrollment.
According to the school district, Athens anticipates saving $1 million in annual transportation costs.
The district aims to eventually have 400 to 450 students in each elementary school. Inequality is a problem as both Whit Davis Elementary and Gaines Elementary schools currently have over 600 students, according to Clarke County School District.
“I have too many kids,” Gaines Elementary School principal Phylis Stuart said. “My school has 667 students.”
Stuart expects that almost half of her students will be rezoned to different schools after the new Neighborhood School Attendance Policy is implemented next school year. A new batch of children will be rezoned to Gaines Elementary School, bringing the student population down to six hundred. A new elementary school opening next fall will relieve overcrowding at Gaines as well.
Some parents oppose the new policy.
“Some parents expressed concerns moving to the Neighborhood Attendance Policy because their children were rezoned out of schools they had been in their whole lives,” Phillips said.
“The parents want their kids to stay in Gaines,” Stuart said. “There weren’t any protests or anything like that; they just came to me personally.”
There are some transition exceptions that will ease parental opposition. Students rising to their last year (5th grade) in elementary school will be allowed to stay in their current school for one last year.
Students are guaranteed a seat at the school they are zoned to. However, school choice could remain an option on the condition that space is available in the desired school.