Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Dove Creek Elementary School To Receive Largest Number Of Students Through School Choice

***Students Leaving High Shoals, Malcom Bridge Elementary***

One in five of the Oconee County students who requested a different school assignment for next year from the one they were given through redistricting opted to move to Dove Creek Elementary School.

Nearly the same ratio opted not to attend High Shoals Elementary School and not to attend Malcom Bridge Elementary School, as they would have under the new redistricting plan adopted last year by the Oconee County Board of Education.

Those three schools dominated the list of schools gaining and losing students as a result of School Choice, according to a report that Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff gave to the Oconee County Board of Education on Monday.

School Choice was made possible because all of the 12 schools in the system were under capacity based on the redistricting plan, and all of them will be under capacity even after the school choice assignments are made, according to data LeDuff reported.

An unusually large number of students–379–selected a different school from the one assigned in redistricting, and LeDuff, at the request of Board Member Tim Burgess, was providing additional data at Monday’s meeting on the outcome of School Choice.

Almost half of the 20-minute long meeting on Monday was taken up with recognitions, as is normal for Board meetings.

Chief Financial Officer Liz Harlow, in her Business Services Report, told the Board that the General Fund Operating Account as of Jan. 31 of this year stood at $59.4 million, up from $58.2 at the end of the year.

She also said that the Education Local Option Sales Tax in December produced a record $1.2 million in collections.

LeDuff’s Report

LeDuff had told the Board at its Feb. 6 work session that 379 students had opted for School Choice, meaning they asked to attend a school other than the one assigned them. They will have to arrange their own transportation.

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Burgess said the number was higher than usual and asked LeDuff for details.

The table that LeDuff presented on Monday showed that 72 students assigned to High Shoals Elementary School and 68 students assigned to Malcom Bridge Elementary School asked to be moved to another school.

LeDuff’s table did not indicate where those students asked to be assigned, but it did show that 76 students moved to Dove Creek Elementary School, the largest school by far in terms of adding enrollments.

The Board of Education adopted new district maps in November to accommodate the opening of Dove Creek Middle School in August of this year.

The District lines for the county’s two high schools and for Oconee County Middle School did not change.

Changes For Elementary Schools

The existing middle school district feeding Malcom Bridge Middle School was split to create a district for Dove Creek Middle School.

The district lines for Dove Creek Elementary School, Rocky Branch Elementary School, and Malcom Bridge Elementary School also were changed markedly.

The boundary lines for High Shoals Elementary School, which produced the largest number of requests for reassignment (72), were changed in minor ways as well.

Malcom Bridge Elementary School had the second largest number of students requesting reassignment, with 68.

Malcom Bridge Elementary School, in redistricting, picked up students now attending Dove Creek Elementary School and Oconee County Elementary School.

Only 20 students requested to move to the new Dove Creek Middle School in School Choice, while 29 students assigned to the new middle school opted to move elsewhere.

Malcom Bridge Middle School picked up 46 students and Oconee County Middle School picked up 17 with School Choice.

All 379 requests for School Choice were granted, LeDuff reported to the Board on Feb. 6, and that is reflected in the table he gave to the Board on Monday.

School Choice History

LeDuff told Burgess at the Feb. 6 meeting that a normal number of requests for School Choice has been about 100 students.

On Monday, he reported that the number was 84 last year and 100 the year before that.

I filed an open records request after the Feb. 6 meeting asking for “A tally of the number of students who applied for and the number who were granted School Choice for each year going back to calendar year 2016.”

Brook Whitmire, open records officer for Oconee County Schools, told me in an email today (Tuesday) that no document exists providing that information.

I had reported the number for the last two years in my post on Feb. 10, based on my search of minutes of Board meetings those years.

I also reported that on Jan. 8 of 2018, then Chief Academic Officer Claire Buck reported receiving 73 requests for school choice.

The Oconee County Board of Education voted in November of 2017 to approve a redistricting plan put forward to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary school set to open in the summer of 2018.

LeDuff said that School Choice this year “did not have a negative impact on what we were able to achieve with the redistricting process.”

Financial Reports

Harlow reported the December Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) collection of $1,216,628 was up 25.1 percent over that same month in 2021.

December was the first full month of operation of Costco.

The November collection had been up 13.8 percent over November of 2021.

Harlow also told the Board that total collections through December–the last month of the tax–were $44.1 million.

The projection had been for collections of $39.9 million, and a cap on collections has been set at $45 million.

Oconee County Schools still owes $6.1 million on payments against the $23.5 million on bonds sold in anticipation of the tax revenues, but it has $16.6 available in unspent revenue from the tax.

Oconee County Schools borrowed just less than $43 million against revenue from the new ELOST, for which collections began only in January, and already has spent $29.6 million of that amount, according to a report Harlow gave the Board on Monday.

Budgeted expenditures, as reported by Harlow, are $3.7 million for the classroom additions at Colham Ferry Elementary School, $3.2 million for the classroom additions at High Shoals Elementary School, and $39.6 million for the new Dove Creek Middle School.

Projected Enrollments

In my open records request after the Feb. 6 meeting, I also asked Whitmire for “Projected enrollments for each of the schools in Oconee County Schools for FY 2024 following assignments resulting from School Choice” and for a copy of the report prepared for Burgess.

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At that point, I did not know that LeDuff would make his report in response to Burgess at the meeting on Monday.

LeDuff’s report on Monday contained the projected enrollments for August, showing that, after redistricting and School Choice, all of Oconee County’s schools remain under capacity.

Oconee County Primary and Oconee County Elementary School form a separate unit, with the Primary School providing grades PK to 2 and the Elementary School offering grades 3 to 5.

Each of the other elementary schools currently has a capacity of 750–the system goal–with the exception of Malcom Bridge Elementary School, which has a capacity of 600 and a projected enrollment of 555 students in October of this year.

Argo on Malcom Bridge Elementary School

At the Board retreat in January of 2022, Brock Toole, then Chief Operations Officer for Oconee County Schools, said the construction of a 12-classroom addition to Malcom Bridge Elementary School would begin with issuance of a request for proposals in 2024.

At the Jan. 18 retreat held by the Board this year, Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, said he was prepared to issue a request for proposals for construction of those additions “If the Board is interested in pursuing that.”

At the Feb. 6 meeting of the Board, he said he had issued the request for proposals. The Board had not met publicly between those two meetings.

In a Feb. 10 email, I asked Board Chair Kim Argo: “Why did the Board decide to move up the scheduling of this project so that an RFP has already been issued for this construction?”

I also asked: “When and how did the Board make the decision to move forward with the 12-classroom addition to Malcom Bridge Elementary?”

Argo wrote me the next day.

“By issuing an RFP for the addition to Malcom Bridge Elementary, the board saw an opportunity to save taxpayers’ dollars,” she wrote.

“A staff RFP provides pertinent information. However, no board action has been taken at this time,” she said.


David Lawrence recorded the video below of the meeting on Monday.

Harlow began her presentation at 14:35 in the video.

LeDuff began his report on School Choice at17:13.

No citizen spoke during the public comment period set aside by the Board for that purpose at the meeting on Monday.

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