Atlanta School Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel

The stage is set for tonight’s vote on Atlanta Public Schools’ historic redistricting of its school zones, a plan that will involve closing 10 schools to eliminate 5,500 empty seats from the school system’s budget. Parents at Sarah Smith Elementary are asking the Atlanta Board of Education to delay approval of the maps for 30 days so they can evaluate Superintendent Erroll Davis’ recommendation to move all of Pine Hills into their school.

“Under the circumstances, we, on behalf of the Sarah Smith PTA, its parents and impacted neighbors, hereby request that each of you, as our representatives, move the Board to table this particular recommendation for a period of at least 30 days to allow our parents and neighbors a fair opportunity to evaluate the recommendation, review all pertinent data and submit appropriate comments,” the PTA wrote to school board Chairman Reuben McDaniel and District 4 school board member Nancy Meister. “Regardless of how one might view this issue, we believe that everyone deserves an open and fair process.”

On April 9, APS released its final redistricting proposal which includes putting the Pine Hills neighborhood in Sarah Smith. The proposal did not change from the last recommendations, released March 31. The school board is set to meet today, starting at 2 p.m., to consider the new maps. No Buckhead schools will close and there will be few changes to its school boundaries. Another controversial proposal involves turning the current Sutton Middle School campus into a sixth grade academy. Parents are urging the school board to delay that decision as well.

Nancy Meister

Here is the full text of Sarah Smith’s letter:

Dear Mr. McDaniel and Ms. Meister:  

We have reviewed Ms. Meister’s email response to our letter concerning the proposed boundary change to Sarah Smith Elementary.   In her response Ms. Meister declares, without furnishing any supporting data, that “[i]t is clear that the proposed boundary change will not have a significant negative impact on Sarah Smith.”   She claims to have formed this conclusion based on impromptu discussions with unnamed members of the administration and an in-house demographer within the last 24 hours.   Without access to the same information, it is impossible for us to fully evaluate Ms. Meister’s conclusion.   However, the information to which we have been provided access, including detailed analysis performed by independent demographers over the course of many months, leads us to a very different conclusion-that the negative impact on Sarah Smith will be significant.

This most recent exchange only serves to highlight that this process is fundamentally flawed.  It is inconceivable to us that such an important decision could be made without providing the affected parents and property owners with adequate notice, timely access to pertinent data and a fair opportunity to express their views.  As we pointed out in our previous letter, the first notice we received of this recommendation was in the form of a posting to the Board’s website shortly before midnight on the first Saturday of Spring Break vacation.  Since that time, APS’s offices have been open only one day, effectively allowing our parents and neighbors only 24 hours to consider this new recommendation, seek pertinent information and submit comments.  We submit that this does not constitute a fair and open process.   As you know, issues of much less importance are routinely subject to public review and comment for periods of weeks and months, not hours.   

Under the circumstances, we, on behalf of the Sarah Smith PTA, its parents and impacted neighbors, hereby request that each of you, as our representatives, move the Board to table this particular recommendation for a period of at least 30 days to allow our parents and neighbors a fair opportunity to evaluate the recommendation, review all pertinent data and submit appropriate comments.  Regardless of how one might view this issue, we believe that everyone deserves an open and fair process.   Please confirm that you will honor this request.

Regards,

Katie ElHamahmy and BJ Young

Sarah Smith Elementary PTA Co-Presidents

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com