After more than three months of consideration, discussion and public input, the Houston County Board of Education will vote on a rezoning plan for the 2010-11 school year Thursday at noon at the board’s central office in Perry.
“It’s been a very long process and many, many more hours than anticipated,” said board chairman Tom Walmer. “That’s our job and we as board members will do as much as possible.”
The original rezoning map was presented to the Houston County Board of Education in October to plan for the opening of Veterans High School this fall. The school board held two meetings in October and November seeking public input on the matter. Hundreds responded through online surveys, e-mail, phone calls and notecards filled out at the meetings.
In response to public input, an alternate plan was presented to the board during a Jan. 11 work session.
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“I’ve been in the system a long time, and I can’t recall a zoning process that didn’t involve parents voicing concerns,” said David Carpenter, Houston County superintendent. The proposed rezoning maps were designed to reduce overcrowding at Northside, Warner Robins and Houston County high schools. The plans also work within the parameters of U.S. Justice Department demographic guidelines to comply with a court order to desegregate the schools, include proposed zones of growth within each high school zone, and remove zoning islands to make the zones contiguous, school officials said.
To comply with the court order, school officials followed Justice Department guidelines that recommend the school zones reflect the system’s black population within 10 percentage points. Some parents were upset at the first public zoning meeting after not being provided with references or documentation of the order. Many parents said the zoning should focus on community ties and proximity to schools instead. A number of residents joined together at both meetings to vocalize their opinions, and one group, the Houston County Neighbors Association, sought the services of an Atlanta lawyer about the original rezoning plan. Their principal argument relied on a neighborhood-based zoning plan mentioned in the court order.
“No matter where you draw the line, people are on the wrong side of it in their opinion,” Carpenter said.
Parents also expressed concern that the first meeting was moderated by board attorney Jeffrey Grube and that parents were being censored. Consequently, the following public forum was run by Mary Therese Tebbe, executive director of the 21st Century Partnership.
During that meeting, it was announced that a final decision on zoning would be postponed until the end of January to allow for more time to consider all options.
On Jan. 11, an alternate zoning map was presented at the board’s work session, which officials said placed more consideration on geographic proximity. Notably, neighborhoods such as Royal Oaks and Magnolia Hill were moved back to Houston County High School under the alternate proposal and homes in the Thompson Mill corridor were zoned for Veterans.
The zones in the alternate proposal keep their racial demographics within a few percentage points of those in the original plan, according to a document on the board’s zoning site.
While many parents were pleased with the alternate proposal, others who are currently zoned to attend Northside and Warner Robins high schools said that plan would leave little room for future growth in those districts — a concern echoed by school board member Fred Wilson — as well as negatively impacting diversity at the schools.
About 200 people met last Thursday at First Baptist Church Garmon Street to mobilize families in the area in favor of the original zoning plan. A number of them felt they didn’t have as much time to express their views on the proposals as those who disapproved of the original map.
“The public input is very valuable,” said Walmer, who represents Northside High School. “Everyone gets passionate about their children and their children’s education. That’s why we have a successful school system.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.