Eleven people spoke at the Oconee County Board of Education Listening Session on elementary school redistricting last week, and none of them was in favor of the plan put forward by Oconee County Schools.
The proposal calls for creation of a new elementary school district north and west of U.S. 78 to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary School under construction on Hog Mountain Road near the Barrow County line.
What concerned those who spoke is a component of the plan that moves some parts of what is now the Malcom Bridge Elementary School District to the Rocky Branch Elementary School District to equalize the size of the student bodies of the two schools when Dove Creek Elementary opens on Aug. 1.
Those who spoke said the change is unnecessary, would disrupt the lives of the students who would be moved from Malcom Bridge to Rocky Branch, and would create safety problems because of the limitations of the road system in the area.
Members of the Board of Education, who will have to approve the redistricting plan put forward by the school administration, did not respond to the comments of those who spoke on Tuesday night.
Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of communications for Oconee County Schools, told the audience of more than 40, including a number of children, in advance that the Board would only listen and not respond.
The 35-minute-long meeting took place in the Auditorium of North Oconee High School, 1081 Rocky Branch Road, with the Board seated under the lights on the stage in the front of the auditorium and those in the audience in the dimmed area of the auditorium.
Those wishing to speak were asked to come forward to the two microphones and were given three minutes to make their presentations to the Board.
Brook Whitmire, chief human resources officer for the School System, began the meeting by reminding the Board of the history of the redistricting plan that was formally unveiled to them on Sept. 18.
Whitmire said that the School System had received 70 responses to the plan before the meeting on Tuesday night and that the portal remains open for additional comment until the Board is scheduled to make its decision on Nov. 13.
The portal contains the detailed maps of the current elementary school districts and of the proposed districts.
It also contains the list of the 42 streets along Rocky Branch Road and Mars Hill Road that will be moved from the Malcom Bridge Elementary School District to the Rocky Branch Elementary School District under the plan proposed by Whitmire and other school staff.
In his presentation to the Board of Education at the meeting on Tuesday, Whitmire reminded the Board that the system had set a goal of having only 750 students in any of the system’s elementary schools.
This year, Malcom Branch Elementary School has 646 students but a capacity of only 600, according to data Whitmire released to the Board at the meeting on Sept. 18.
Rocky Branch Elementary School at the start of the current 2018 school year has 768 students with a capacity of 750.
Under the proposed redistricting plan, in the fall of 2018, for the beginning of the 2019 school year, Malcom Bridge would have 434 students and Rocky Branch would have 440.
The new Dove Creek would have 488.
Whitmire said at the Sept. 18 meeting that the redistricting plan would move 52 students from Malcom Bridge Elementary School to Rocky Branch Elementary School.
Focus On 52 Students
Jeff Rothman, 1071 Waverly Hollow Drive in Old Waverly subdivision, focused on those 52 students in his comments to the Board on Tuesday.
Existing Malcom Bridge Elementary School Zone, Left
Proposed New Malcom Bridge Elementary School Zone, Right
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Rothman said he questioned “whether there is a real need for redistricting of what I refer to as the Rocky Branch Road corridor.”
Rothman said the only subdivision proposed for the area is Autumn Glen, which, he said, based on school projections should have only about 25 students attending elementary schools.
“Even with the addition of these 77 students, we are talking about approximately 100 students short of the capacity of Malcom Bridge Elementary School,” Rothman said.
Taylor Szoke, 1036 Rowan Circle in Rowan Oak Subdivison, submitted a petition that she said contained the names of 142 persons opposed to the redistricting.
She said she also submitted an alternative plan with the Malcom Bridge students remaining at Malcom Bridge.
Others commented on the danger of the Mars Hill Road and Rocky Branch Road intersection, which parents and students living in subdivisions along the south side of Mars Hill Road would have to travel if they are reassigned to Rocky Branch Road elementary school.
Malcom Bridge Road and Rocky Branch Road cross and make an X as each runs from Mars Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road.
Speakers noted the congestion on the parts of road shared as they cross Barber Creek and how that would be increased by the redistricting plan.
Mary Claire Cozart, a first grader at Malcom Bridge Elementary School, followed her father, Joe Cozart, 1261 Queens Row, off Rocky Branch Road, to the microphone.
“I want to stay at Malcom Bridge because you can do a lot of stuff there,” Mary Claire said. “You can do lots of fun writing and reading stuff.”
The video below is of the entire Listening Session. I shot the video from the audience section of the auditorium, and the low lighting level makes the images less than ideal. The audio, however, is quite good.
Whitmire made his introductory comments starting at 0:50 in the video.
Jimenez spelled out the procedures to be used in making comments starting at 5:50.
Citizen comment began with Chris Blanchard, 111 Paul Ridge in the Canyon Creek subdivision, whose son attends Malcom Bridge at present but would be sent to Rocky Branch, at 7:30.
Rothman began speaking at 10:50.
Szoke spoke at 14:30.
Mary Claire Cozart began speaking at 22:18.