The Effingham County Board of Education approved a proposal Thursday to revise the attendance boundary lines for Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon elementary schools.
The plan would lower the enrollment at Blandford by about a hundred students, according to school district officials. Blandford has the county’s largest elementary school enrollment, 841 students.
“You’ve heard the old saying, there’s no room at the inn. We’ve got to make a move,” said school board Vice Chairman Troy Alford.
Fort Howard Road will be the Rincon-Blandford dividing line next school year, with all students who live north of it attending RES and all south of it going to BES. Students in the Hickory Knob area will move from Rincon to Ebenezer, and 66 pre-kindergarten students who had moved to Rincon will return to Blandford.
“I feel like the lines are appropriate,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “There’s no perfect way to draw a district.”
The proposal passed by a 3-0 vote, with board member Eddie Tomberlin unable to attend the meeting and former member Mose Mock’s seat still vacant.
Using current enrollment figures, the new attendance lines will reduce Blandford’s enrollment to 744. Enrollment will increase slightly at Rincon, from 637 to 669, and Ebenezer, from 645 to 710.
“The good news is, of course, kids are resilient,” Shearouse said. “Quite honestly, the couple times I’ve had to deal with (redistricting) the last eight years, really the kids adjust very well to any move that is made.”
Shearouse acknowledged that the students transferring from Rincon to Ebenezer will have to spend a few more minutes a day riding a school bus. He said the bus ride from Hickory Knob to Ebenezer is 3.9 miles and takes approximately six minutes, compared to the current ride of 1.3 miles and approximately three minutes.
“So there is a difference, of course, but it’s small, as far as the amount of time it would take to drive that,” he said.
Shearouse reiterated the “school choice” option families have under Georgia law. Public school students can attend a school in their district other than the one for which they are zoned, as long as the school has available space and a parent or guardian can provide the child’s transportation.
The Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon families impacted by the rezoning will be allowed a head-start on submitting an application for their children to remain at their current school. The school choice form will be made available to them in March, a month earlier than for children at the county’s other schools.
“If you’d like to keep your kid at their home school, they would have that opportunity,” Shearouse said.
One parent speaks
Last month’s public forum on the redistricting proposal was attended by about 50 people, but only one parent spoke at Thursday’s meeting.
Cindy Brousseau told the school board the redistricting was “very upsetting” to her. Brousseau’s daughter is a first-grader at Rincon Elementary and is slated to move to Ebenezer next year.
“To me, I don’t see you guys interested in the children,” she said. “Nobody’s mentioned the children, except for ‘children are resilient.’ Not all children are resilient.”
Alford, who represents District 2, took exception to the claim that school board members were not thinking first of students.
“You may question a lot of things about the representative of District 2 and Troy Alford,” he said, “but one thing you can never, as far as I’m concerned, question is my love for kids and getting them educated — period.”
District 5 representative Vickie Decker also defended the board’s actions. Her district is the one affected by the redistricting.
Decker pointed out that she has three children in Effingham County schools. Her daughter, now a junior at Effingham County High, was redistricted from Rincon Elementary to Blandford when BES was built.
“She adjusted very well,” Decker said. “She’s taking AP and honors classes and doing very well.”
Decker added that she also has a son who has received special-education services at Rincon Elementary.
“So I clearly understand and take into consideration all students when I vote and make decisions about these types of things,” she said. “I always try to look at them as how I would want it to be handled if it were me, as a parent.”
Brousseau contended that some parents will have to change their schedules and “scramble for day care” in order to keep their children in their school of choice. But, she said, “it’s the children that are going to suffer,” not the parents.
“I understand your frustration, but I beg to differ — we do care about kids,” BoE Chairman Lamar Allen said after Brousseau’s remarks. “But things change and things move on, and we don’t have a choice.”
Two people in the audience walked out of the meeting when Allen called for a motion on the redistricting proposal. Alford made the motion and Decker seconded it.
“Years to come, we’re probably going to have to do this again,” Alford said. “And there’s no way we can satisfy everybody.”