PERRY — The Houston County Board of Education approved a new zoning map in a 6-1 vote during a called meeting Thursday.
The finalized map is a modification of the alternate zoning map presented Jan. 11. It moves the Quail Run area back to Northside High School. The area north of Ga. 96 to Ga. 247 west to Moody Road will remain at Warner Robins High School.
Board member Griff Clements was concerned about the third map, which was referred to in the meeting as Option 3, since the public would not have the time to review it before the vote.
“If this is a proposal, it needs to be put on the table and everyone needs to be able to look at it,” he said.
Board member Toby Hill disagreed, saying that the community had the opportunity to express their favor or disapproval, and the board needed to make a decision to move forward.
“There’s been an enormous voice in the community. It demonstrates the community is involved and knowledgeable about school zones, but I also would like to bring closure to the situation,” said Hill, the board’s vice chairman.The board had been expected to choose between two maps — the original proposal and an alternate one made public Jan. 11.
Board members said they fielded up to 1,000 e-mails from parents on the matter, and board member Fred Wilson said he even responded to one caller in his car on the way to the meeting.
Board chairman Tom Walmer said the changes were made based on public responses dating back to the first zoning proposal, and especially within the past two weeks. The third proposal was tweaked within the last few days under the direction of Superintendent David Carpenter and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Stephen Thublin, then finalized Thursday morning, Walmer said.
The board also approved the proposed elementary and middle school maps in a unanimous vote.
A group of about 10 parents who are residents of the Harper’s Ridge and Willis Creek at Tucker Place subdivisions stood outside the board’s office before the called meeting and held signs to demonstrate against the board’s alternate zoning plan.
The neighborhoods were rezoned to Warner Robins High School from Houston County High School.
About 100 residents from the neighborhoods gathered in a forum Monday and collected 287 signatures on a petition that was submitted to the board, said Harper’s Ridge resident Amie Bozeman, who organized the event.
While her three children, a rising high school senior, junior and freshman, will be allowed to stay at Houston County High next year, she is still concerned with the interests of her entire neighborhood, which is less than two miles away from the school.
“I’m still upset,” Bozeman said. “They catered to every other neighborhood today except us.”
John Taylor, whose children will be in ninth and 11th grades next year, said the opinions of his community were not adequately considered by the school board. “I felt that we were not heard,” said Taylor, who lives in Harper’s Ridge. “Really, there wasn’t an opportunity to present or state our case.”
Several members of the Houston County Neighbors Association, who were vocal opponents of the original proposal, were mostly pleased with the result of the vote. Morgan McLure, a member of the HCNA, said although he was somewhat concerned about the last-minute third plan, he was pleased with the board’s decision.
“It’s not about my child or neighborhood, it’s about doing what’s right,” McLure said.
“We’re really glad to have closure to the situation,” said David Schaeffer, an Atlanta lawyer working on behalf of the HCNA on the issue.
Northside High School council chairman Jim Maddox, who helped mobilize about 200 parents from his school and Warner Robins High last week against the alternate proposal, also was happy about the decision.
“I have to give the board and Walmer credit,” Maddox said. “They struggled mightily on how to make a plan for the community. They did a good job.”
The board also approved a motion in a 5-2 decision that allows rising ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade siblings of rising high school seniors to continue attending the same schools as their older siblings after the rezoning takes effect, with board members Clements and Hill dissenting. Rising seniors will be grandfathered in to current school zones. The younger siblings will be allowed to remain at those schools for the duration of their high school years but will be required to make an out-of-zone request each year.
Now the school board must look ahead to serve the best interest of its students, Carpenter said.
“No matter what school the students end up, they will get a quality education,” he said. “We will do everything in our power for the smoothest transition for those who will be affected.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.