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Some parents unhappy with redistricting proposal
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Jimmy Helmly, transportation coordinator for Effingham County schools, discusses the proposal to redraw district lines for Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon elementary schools. About 50 people attended Thursday nights meeting at Rincon Elementary. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Effingham County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse reiterated Thursday night that, “I’ve always said that I would send my child to any elementary school we have in the county.”

Apparently not all parents in the school district agree with him.

About 50 adults and children attended the Effingham County Board of Education meeting Thursday regarding proposed attendance zone revisions for Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon elementary schools.

Roughly half of the parents in attendance addressed the board, asking questions on a range of topics including how the attendance boundaries were determined, how shifts in schools’ enrollments could affect class size and teacher need, how after-school day care will be affected and whether the county’s projected growth could result in more rezoning in coming years.

“This is a band-aid. I don’t think it’s a long-term fix,” said Kimberly Jagan, whose first-grade son is zoned to move from Blandford to Rincon next year.

“We’re going to have to change elementary schools and the after-school program, which won’t pick him up (at Rincon Elementary),” she said. “And then again in two or three years it’s, ‘Oh, we have a hundred-plus excess students at Blandford and it’s overcrowded again, so now we’re going to shift everybody around again.’”

Shearouse said that, since Christmas break, the Effingham County School System has added 44 new students. School officials stated several times during the meeting that while they expect the school district to continue to grow, they have no way of knowing exactly where and by how much that growth will be.

“I can almost guarantee you, (another redistricting) won’t be within a year,” Shearouse said. “It’ll be several years before that would be considered.”

The proposed rezoning aims to bring Blandford’s enrollment — the district’s largest at 841 students — more in line with the county’s other elementary schools. The only other elementary school with at least 700 students is Marlow Elementary (743).

Based on current enrollment numbers, the proposed attendance lines would reduce Blandford’s enrollment to 744. Enrollment would increase slightly at Rincon, from 637 to 669, and Ebenezer, from 645 to 710.

The number of teachers at each school next year will reflect those shifts in enrollment, Shearouse said. One parent asked why the board of education simply could not add more teachers at Blandford rather than transferring some of its students to Rincon.

“They don’t have room at Blandford. Blandford’s maxed,” said school board Chairman Lamar Allen.

“It’s not as easy as adding another person,” Shearouse said, “because when you add another person, you don’t have space to put that person.”

Jagan was one of four parents to say they chose the location of their homes specifically because they were in Blandford’s district.

“We just built our house and moved in in August with the understanding that our son was going to continue to be able to go to Blandford his entire elementary career,” she said.

“You build a $350,000-$400,000 home because of where your kids go to school, that’s a big investment,” said George Carroll, who, like Jagan lives in the Dasher’s Landing subdivision.

“I’m sorry,” Allen said, “whoever told you that you would be able to finish in a school district can’t promise that. No one can promise that.”

Jimmy Helmly, the school district’s transportation coordinator, advised that, “If you’re on the edge of a district, there’s a possibility (of redistricting). If you want to guarantee you may stay at the school, you need to buy within sight of the school or in the center of a district.”

The final question of the night was whether the school board could find money in the budget to build an addition to Blandford Elementary.

“We just cannot justify spending a million-something dollars when you’ve got room at other schools to put kids,” Allen said.

No vote was taken Thursday on the proposed school attendance zones. Shearouse said he expects the board of education to make a decision next month, likely at its meeting on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the school board office in Springfield.

School choice
By law, Georgia 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.

Shearouse told the audience that Blandford, Ebenezer and Rincon families impacted by the rezoning would be allowed a head-start on submitting an application for their children to remain at their current school. The school choice form would be made available to them in March, a month earlier than for children at the county’s other schools.

“So you would have a little lead time on the normal school choice that occurs in the county,” Shearouse said.

Kim Moore asked what criteria are used for granting or denying school choice requests. Her fourth-grade daughter would be included in the 65 students projected to transfer from Rincon to Ebenezer.

“She wants to graduate next year at Rincon Elementary, of course, with all her friends,” Moore said. “Let’s just assume all 65 of us fill out those forms. You’re not going to say yes to all of us.”

Shearouse said the bottom line for school choice requests is ensuring that class sizes do not exceed the maximum allowed under state law.

“I really feel like, hopefully, all will be accommodated,” he said. “We’ll have to see how many requests we get for each grade level. It’s really going to be based on if we can accommodate you at that grade level more than a first-come, first-served-type thing.”

That prompted a question from a parent with two children: If one child is granted school choice, will a sibling in a different grade level be ensured it as well?

“That’s always taken into consideration,” Shearouse said. “We’re not going to split a family up, for sure.”