The options presented by DeKalb County Schools to redistrict the Dunwoody cluster for a new Austin Elementary just shift children around already overcrowded schools and do nothing to solve the overall problem, parents said at an Oct. 23 meeting.
“We need another [new] school now,” one parent said.
The new, 950-seat Austin opens in January 2020 at 5321 Roberts Drive and the new districts will be in effect in August 2020. The district originally planned to use the current Austin site at 5435 Roberts Drive, but now says it is unfeasible. In the long term, additional seats will be needed for overcrowding issues, the district says, but there are no plans or timelines for more new schools.
The surrounding elementary schools currently over capacity are Chesnut, Dunwoody, Hightower and Vanderlyn. The redistricting process of changing school attendance zones could impact any of the Dunwoody Cluster elementary schools, the district says.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, held at Dunwoody High School, the district presented three redistricting options. It was the second of three meetings; the first was held on Sept. 26.
The first option focused on balancing enrollment across all Dunwoody cluster elementary schools. The option would move 179 Dunwoody students to Austin; 22 Vanderlyn students to Austin; 22 Dunwoody students to Vanderlyn; 43 Chesnut students to Kingsley; 65 Hightower students to Kingsley; four Hightower students to Chesnut; and 15 Chesnut students to Hightower.
The first option was the least favored among parents, who said it does not seem to account for projected enrollment in 2021. That estimates the enrollment of 210 more students in Dunwoody elementary schools.
“The overall plan does not address the overcrowding for the future growth of the Dunwoody cluster,” a parent said.
The second option was to balance enrollment and not have any portable classrooms at Austin. The option would move 85 Dunwoody students to Austin; one Vanderlyn student to Austin; 22 Dunwoody students to Vanderlyn; 25 Dunwoody students to Chesnut; 43 Chesnut students to Kingsley; and 65 Hightower students to Kingsley.
At the Sept. 26 meeting, the district presented the potential solution of having portable classrooms at the new school in response to overflowing populations, which parents had mixed views on.
Many DeKalb schools are currently using portable classrooms either in the form of trailers to house students and teachers no longer able to fit into the main school buildings.
Dunwoody parents and residents have been locked in a years-long battle with DeKalb Schools officials about the use of trailers as a solution for schools being over their capacity.
But some parents said the option is the least equitable amongst the three. While the new school would have no trailers, the other schools would have to carry the burden.
“There are no portables at Austin and all the other schools would have five to 11 trailers,” a parent said.
The third option provided relief to Hightower by redistricting 106 students to Doraville United, the new, 950-seat elementary school opening in August 2020 in Doraville. Hightower’s enrollment is more than 750 students, over capacity by about 200.
Parents’ main concern with moving children from Hightower to Doraville is that it splits the feeder schools. The students would return to the Dunwoody cluster for middle school and high school at Peachtree Middle and Dunwoody High.
District 1 Board of Education member Stan Jester said the reason for the split feeder option is DeKalb Schools’ decision to redistrict only the Cross Keys and Chamblee clusters into a new Cross Keys High.
“Split feeders are challenging,” Jester said. “But [the district] is trying to not feed anything else into those clusters to reduce the confusion right now.”
The same option was presented at an Oct. 16 Doraville United redistricting meeting in Brookhaven and was the preferred option amongst parents. Doraville United is expected to ease overcrowded conditions at Ashford Park, Cary Reynolds, Dresden, Huntley Hills and Montgomery.
Overall, parents said they were not content with any of the options because it does not eliminate the overcrowding in the Dunwoody cluster.
“That is the real issue… [I]f we are not getting another school, we are not really solving anything with any of the three options,” one parent said.
“It is just a ‘for now’ option,” another parent said.
The first of three public input meetings about the redistricting was held Sept. 26 at Dunwoody High School. During a small group session, parents expressed concern about longer travel times and traffic.
The district will explore the feedback given and present a final redistricting plan at a third meeting on Nov. 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Dunwoody High School, 6035 Vermack Road.