APS Board Votes to Close Seven Schools, Preserve Three More

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(APN) ATLANTA — On April 10, 2012, the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted at a meeting held at Jackson High School, to close seven out of ten schools that at the time were being proposed by Superintendent Errol Davis for closure: Kennedy and Parks Middle Schools, and Capitol View, Cook, East Lake, Herndon, and White Elementary Schools.

Kennedy Middle and Herndon Elementary are located in central, southwest Atlanta.  Parks Middle and Capitol View Elementary are located in southeast Atlanta.  Cook and East Lake Elementary schools are located in east Atlanta.  White Elementary is located in northwest Atlanta.

D.H. Stanton, F.L. Stanton, and Towns Elementary Schools were spared from closure.

The nine Board Members had questions from their districts or at-large constituents on various issues involving childrens’ futures..  

The meeting lasted over twelve hours with over five hundred attendees.

With APS suffering from a 46 million dollar deficit for 2012, and the loss of revenue in 120 million dollars over four years, due to falling sales tax and property tax revenues, APS made the decision to close the seven schools, which will affect childrens’ futures.

Davis said Atlanta needs “dollars (to) fuel this engine” and the “commitment is not buildings, but children.”  

The real issue is “inequities” of programs, which “all takes resources.”  Davis felt that after an excess of one hundred community meetings regarding the proposed closures, seventy in the last month, the whole process was “informative” and “interesting.”

Board Member LaChandra Butler-Burkes (District 5) asked about the possibility of children walking across the Interstate to get to school.

Nancy Meister (District 4) asked about how will Inman Middle School the practice of teaching students in “portables” or trailers affect their academic achievement.  

Davis replied there is one out of three fields at Inman with trailers on them.  Davis said he does not like trailers long-term and is concerned with open spaces.

Brenda Muhammad (District 1) asked Davis about his constant use of the term “evolving issue.”  
She believed her district was not given time on this “evolving issue” to close schools.  

Muhammad believed that Davis’s use of the term “evolving” may have been “a scheme.”

Muhammad asked why would APS not allow the opportunity for the community to prove itself; like other schools, through meetings on their resources to stay open and remove this vote off the recommendation table for now.

She stated, she would have made the same recommendation years before moving into this community, but had seen they have grown and the resources they have.  Muhammad could see a future Parkside or Morningside right there, “but they need a chance, and I don’t thing they got a fair chance.”

Muhammad noticed another issue that Davis mentioned before at meetings.  She asked “Mr Superintendent, I submit to you, when you say that ‘our focus is on the children and not the community.’  I submit to you:  The children are the community.  We would not have community, if we didn’t have children?  That is what our focus is about:  Community.”

On April 13, 2012, APN made an Open Records Act request to APS for copies of any and all emails sent from Muhammad to Davis and the other Board Members regarding the proposed closure of D.H. Stanton, between March 01, 2012, and April 13, 2012.

“The total estimated charge associated with your open records request is $ 131.05 (as provided in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71). This includes $16.91 per hour for administrative time (Technology Department) for a total of 8 hours. (with no charge for the first 15 minutes -$4.23),” APS open records custodian Teresa Ross, wrote in an April 17, 2012, email.

APN’s News Editor questioned the amount in response, noting, “I do not see how it could possibly take eight hours for the Technology Department to respond to this request.  Specifically, because all of the emails I am requesting were sent by Ms. Muhammad, it should be possible to find all the emails responsive to my request by running a keyword search of Ms. Muhammad’s sent mail folder.  I am confident your Technology Department knows how to do this simple task.”

Ross responded it would take eight hours.

“Yes our Technology Department does know how to do this task. However, it is not as simple as you have stated.  They will have to do a query for Brenda Muhammad and then proceed to do several queries for the Board Members and/or APS Superintendent Errol Davis as it relates to the possible closure of D.H. Stanton Elementary School from March 1, 2012 to present, as you have requested. They will have to go through several emails to retrieve your requested emails.”

On April 18, 2012, APN sent Ross a new ORA request, for only emails sent from Muhammad to Davis between March 23 and April 01, 2012.  APN has yet to receive a response, which is due Tuesday, April 24.

Over forty citizens asked questions on many subjects, including race and their concerns with Atlanta’s children.

Dr. Pastor Kenneth Augustus Walker said he worked in the Capitol for twenty years, that he heard of these school closures made on Spring Break, that he “smells politics,” and that this was a “political move.”

“Children matter… community matters,” Walker said.  He asked the Board, if they had walked in these communities?  It was “reckless” to rush to judgment on these schools, he said.  APS was voted in to help children “not clean out our children… Children are not cattle,” he said, adding for APS to leave G.A. Towns alone.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) made an analogy between the suggested closure of Stanton [unclear which one] and the closed West End fire station, which she is trying to reopen.  She said that we “learn firefighters saves lives” and “teachers save children.”  

Winslow noted that four schools already closed in the West End neighborhood, a mile from downtown Atlanta.

Winslow asked why APS was supporting charter schools over public schools?

Audience member, Mr. Young, was concerned with the preoccupation of redeveloping buildings, seeing as how “human capital have more value than buildings.”  People that are left in the community have no help from APS, he said.  

He wanted children to “not be statistics in the criminal justice system,” through the school-to-prison pipeline.

The most applause came from Mr. Rollen, a third grade student at Stanton [unclear which one], who said he was told by his reverend to “never stop until you succeed… [to] be obedient… [but also to] love thy neighbor and love thy school.”

Audience member Ms. Jackson said she noticed that some parents in the Hispanic community had learned of these closures by letters, which were written in English only.

Stacy Merkerson, a parent of Towns Elementary, said, “We don’t want you to leave our communities in a situation where our property [values] go down more and then we have nothing to offer for people to move into our neighborhood.”

One woman called it “blatant gentrification” to close schools.

Another speaker, Mr. Crabtree, noticed three to four charter schools being opened in the west part of Atlanta.

A speaker, Ms. Turner, felt APS was involved in a “movement to privatize our schools… [and a] private school agenda.”  She added that “public schools” are the “great equalizer.”

The APS meeting was interrupted twice, once when Davis stepped off the stage, leading the audience to demand for him to return.  The second time was when one Black male wearing a suit was escorted out of the meeting by Atlanta Police after he had ran on stage from behind the School Board.

(END/2012)

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