WARNER ROBINS — The applause was resounding and the issue came up often: Those who oppose an alternate zoning proposal believe it will damage the racial, social and economic diversity they say is now evident among Houston County’s high schools.
More than 200 people packed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church Garmon Street to mobilize opposition to the alternate plan. The Houston County Board of Education will select a rezoning plan during its noon Jan. 28 meeting at the central office in Perry. The alternate plan was presented as an option to the original zoning plan during the board’s Jan. 11 work session.
“We want diverse schools,” said Jim Maddox, chairman of Northside High’s school council and president of its PTO. The crowd exploded in applause. “We want diversity in our schools.”
Questioned at the meeting was whether school officials were using current guideline percentages on racial minorities to map the proposed zones, or whether the figures were outdated by six years.
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Also questioned was why parents could not find the minority percentages broken out for the proposals on the school system’s Web site at www.hcbe.net. One parent claimed those figures were on the site early on in the process.
Jim Elliott, chairman of Warner Robins High’s school council and city attorney for Warner Robins, noted that those figures should not be hard to come by and that the zoning process should be transparent.
When gauging diversity, parents wanted to know the minority percentages as well as reduced-lunch percentages. The latter determine which schools are Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools receive additional federal funding based on concentrations of low-income students. Minority percentages and reduced-lunch percentages help show how well a school may be racially and economically mixed.
The alternate proposal could mean Houston High and Veterans High would never have Title 1 designations, one parent warned the group.
Stephanie and Michael Montgomery, who live off Rio Pinar Drive, know their children are guaranteed to attend Northside High where Michael Montgomery graduated in 1986. Stephanie Montgomery works at Thompson Middle School, so her children can attend their school of choice.
She said her concern is that her 10th-grader and eighth-grader continue to be exposed to a diverse group of children. She does not believe the alternate plan addresses that issue.
Aeran Priaulx, a homemaker whose son attends Huntington Middle School, said she came to the meeting to listen and learn. She noted that she lives in Huntington Village, military housing in Warner Robins located off Robins Air Force Base, and she and her husband may move if they don’t like the zoning plan chosen by the board of education.
Those attending received a paper survey. Among the questions it asked were which zoning map was preferred — both plans were next to empty check boxes, but the original proposal was bolded — and whether, given the choice, they would prefer the Northside and Warner Robins zones remain unchanged from their current boundaries.
Elliott encouraged parents to contact board members, and contact information was distributed at the meeting. Parents also were encouraged to participate in an online survey now being offered on the school system’s Web site. Concern was voiced that school officials are placing too much emphasis on the online survey because many people do not use computers.
“We can make a difference in a week,” Elliott told the crowd. “We really can. This many people can make a difference.”
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.