A proposal to alter transportation zones for some Bulloch County elementary schools moved one step closer to completion, when the plan was presented to the Board of Education last week.
Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent for Business and Finance, presented the proposal - which was honed with input received from school representatives in a February 24 work session - at the meeting, where board members placed the plan on the table pending further input and discussion from school principals and parents.
"The primary reason the proposal was tabled was to get additional information and address things methodically to make sure we get it correct," said BOE Member Edwin Hill. "We are seeking feedback from parents that are directly involved, and look to assess any comments they may have."
"The current proposal is an attempt to take the feedback we received from school representatives and minimize the changes to affected schools," Wilson said. "We will now send out the newest proposal to the schools and receive additional feedback."
The most recent proposal is a collaborative effort by the department and representatives of affected schools, said Wilson. Using information, concerns and ideas expressed by the school's principles and councils during February's work session - when initial proposals were presented - the new plan was formulated.
"It is still a work in progress," he said. "We are going to see what kind of feedback we receive and take it from there. I would say that this is another step in the process, but it is not the final step."
Working on plan
Work to prepare the new zones has been underway since February 2010, when school officials determined a need to more evenly distribute students in six of the county's elementary schools - Sallie Zetterower, Mattie Lively, Julia P. Bryant, Langston Chapel, Mill Creek and Brooklet.
The need has arisen, according to Wilson, because some schools are operating at a higher-than-ideal capacity, while Sallie Zetterower and Mattie Lively Elementary - once the new Mattie Lively is constructed - are under utilized.
"The reason for changing zones is predominately to address the under-utilization of these schools," said Hill. "The idea is to try balancing the schools the best we can."
"We have several empty classrooms currently because of being at half-capacity," said Todd Williford, Principle of Sallie Zetterower. "As far as we're concerned, the proposal looks good. We are only gaining students."
Zoning changes will expand transportation zones for Sallie Zetterower and Mattie Lively, increasing the amount of students at each facility by requiring bus-riding students in affected areas to switch to a new school. Families may keep students may remain at their old school, Wilson said, if they can arrange their own transportation.
According to the proposal, Sallie Zetterower would gain 146 students, increasing its capacity utilization from 49 percent to 66 percent; the new Mattie Lively school, which is scheduled to open in January 2012, is set to add 168 students, moving its capacity from 58 percent to 78 percent.
The scenario would move both new schools closer an ideal range, while lowering the others' capacity to comparable figures - Brooklet Elementary would operate at 73 percent capacity, instead of 80 percent; Langston Chapel would operate at 77 percent, as opposed to 85 percent; Mill Creek would move from 85 percent to 64 percent; and Julia P. Bryant would operate at 72 percent instead of 80 percent.
The purpose for reshaping zones is to "have all schools in a 65 to 75 percent range," said Wilson.
Areas that would be affected by changes, and move into the Sallie Zetterower zone include, in part: Berkshire Subdivision, Pretoria Lane, Rushing Road, Harvey Drive, Lanier Drive, Lanier Apartments, O'Neal Drive, Knight Drive, University Place Apartments, Talons Lake Subdivision, Bethel Church Road, Burkhalter Road, Camelot Subdivision, Marsham Drive, Gary Street, Wilton Drive, Stratford Street, Wilburn Road, Harwood Street, Lydia Lane and few more.
The expanded Sallie Zetterower transportation zone, if the board is able to approve a plan prior to the current school year's end, would go into effect in August, said Wilson.
"The idea, based on what the superintendent has expressed to us, is that they would like to have things in place by the fall," said Hill. "I think it would be reasonable, but in order to do that we have to act to make the appropriate plans in terms of staffing, and make adjustments at the particular schools."
Any changes applying to Mattie Lively would begin with the 2012-2013 school year, since the new facility will not be operational during the first semester of the 2011-2012 year, said Wilson.
Areas that would move into Mattie Lively's zone, according to the proposal, include sections of: Middleground Plantation Subdivision, Rolling Hills, Deer Crossing Road, Dixon Connector, Gary Futch Road, Middleground Road, Cone Homes Apartments, and Madison Meadows Apartments.
A question that still remains for school officials, said Wilson, is how many students will switch schools or exercise the option to remain at a previous school with alternative transportation.
"A question still being asked is: when we make this change, do we really know how many people will exercise the option of continuing to go their current school," he said. "What we are doing is sending out letters to the parents of affected students to ask if they can provide us feedback regarding their intent. The responses will give us a better idea of what kind of effect to expect."
The plan moving forward, according to Wilson, is to provide schools additional time to discuss the most recent proposal.
"We want to give the schools about a month to discuss the proposal with councils and PTOs," he said. "If everyone comes back and seems to be OK with what we have proposed, then we will go forward. We will then take that information to the board."
It is possible, if concern and questions about the proposal linger, that a final solution may not come before the current school year's end, said Wilson.
"If there is a lot of concern and question regarding the proposal, an option we have is to fall back to the following year and implement all changes at one time - in 2012."
Affected schools received the proposal for review last week.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454