Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guest Post: "A Case for Redistricting"

**Bumping this post back to the top as I believe it is as appropriate now as it was in 2015***

By Kirk Lunde..This is a follow up to my previous post proposing a System of Charter Clusters.  Most of what is written below are the ideas and suggestions of others who have shared them with me. One person who needs to be thanked is Marshall Orson.

DeKalb County Schools new Superintendent, Dr. Green, has a Bambinelli’s sized serving of spaghetti on his “plate” and working through it is going to create a legacy he will take with him into retirement. I believe he is the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

The district needs to make a decision regarding which flexibility option it will use going forward. There is also a school capacity crisis in the Cross Keys cluster which needs to be addressed. Additionally, the district is preparing an eSPLOST  project list for the BOE to vote on in May or June. If approved, citizens will vote on it next November. eSPLOST is the mechanism DCSD uses to pay for capital programs. The district has dubbed the preparation of the project list Building S.P.A.C.E.S.

In my perfect world, DCSD would take a map of the county and start over. Just change almost everything. The BOE districts are set by the legislature, so leave them in place and build from there. Currently, there are seven BOE districts and five regions. Align them. Make seven regions, each with one, or two, regional superintendents. This will reduce the span of control and provide more support to the principals.

All right, now we have seven regions and a System of Charter Clusters. Before we get any farther along, we need to address the capacity crisis in the Cross Keys cluster. DeKalb teacher and blogger, Rebekah Cohen Morris, wrote a great post about how to address this. She has the right idea. However, the plan she proposes does not take into account the other schools in DeKalb which are also overcrowded. These should be addressed at the same time. To speak plainly: attendance lines need to be changed district-wide.

Yes. I mean the whole county needs to be redistricted. Yes. I remember what happened the last time that was attempted. Yes. I was part of the crowds who wanted to Save Our Schools.

However, this time can be different. This time there is competent leadership in the district. This time, the BOE won’t be looking to line the pockets of their friends and family. This time, a plan can be based on accurate information, not political favors.

Hopefully, this time the DCSD can communicate effectively and control the conversation regarding redistricting. This can be done by recording any committee meetings and posting them on the district’s website. This will allow stakeholders to see the process used to devise a plan and eliminate the appearance of things being decided in secrecy. Every time there is a public meeting, it should be recorded to capture the comments, questions, and ideas. These should also be posted to the district’s website. I believe a constant stream of information before a plan is announced will reduce the resistance to any plan that is put forward. Additionally, some of the documented public input should be included in any proposed redistricting plan. Then, the stakeholders should be given an opportunity to look over any proposed plan before their feedback is sought. The district’s strategy of hiding things before asking for feedback needs to forgotten. At that time, questions need to be answered, not ignored. Again, these meetings should be recorded and made available on the district’s website.

Will there be resistance? Of course there will. DeKalb citizens love their local schools. However, the interests of all the children in DeKalb County would be best served by improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the district.

Currently, less than 65% of the district budget is spent on instruction. A more efficient school district would be able to increase that percentage. A more cost-effective district would make a larger pot of money available from which to draw the instruction percentage out of. Students would benefit in two ways. A more cost-effective school district could spend more on classroom instruction and have more money for other things such as counselors, STEM programs, music programs, and Career Technical & Ag. Education (CTAE).

The district should then present a set of guidelines, or goals, for redistricting. If a school’s request to change the proposed plan doesn’t meet the guidelines, or advance the district goals, the school will need to rethink their their request.

One of the strategic goals the district should work towards is becoming significantly more efficient and cost-effective. Decisions can not be political, they must benefit all of the students in the county by contributing to that goal.

The best way to create efficiency and improve cost-effectiveness is to even the load among clusters. It isn’t equitable that some schools are at less than 75% capacity while others are more than 125% capacity. Redrawing attendance lines can create capacity equity among schools and reduce transportation costs. Another benefit of redistricting would be to reduce the illegal racial segregation found in the Cross Keys cluster. Everyone can agree the district doesn’t need another law suit and if the Cross Keys cluster is not changed, there may be one.

Another goal of the district should be to eliminate trailers without resorting to inflated class sizes.  Rule 160-5-4-.16 (a) 2 states, A plan to replace all temporary educational facilities with permanent educational facilities must be included in the LEA’s local facilities plan. It is to be understood that all needs in a local facilities plan usually cannot be met within the five year life cycle of that plan and that temporary educational facilities may remain at a facility past the expiration of the current local facilities plan.”  The current Local Facilities Plan does not contain a plan to replace any of the trailers. It will take longer than one eSPLOST to achieve this goal, but when you consider DCSD is spending approximately $2 million a year on trailers, this is a goal the district should work towards. That is $2 million a year that can be spent on instruction.

The last time redistricting was seriously discussed, Ramona Tyson was the superintendent. She, and the BOE, were not willing to do what would benefit all the students, or all of the schools. The most vocal (read politically connected) opponents were able to get the proposal altered to meet their demands. There were also changes made because the proposed plan was based on inaccurate information. These things can be avoided by starting with an accurate assessment of the capacities and needs of each school. That is what the Building S.P.A.C.E.S. initiative is supposed to be creating.

My vision of DCSD is one where the resources of the DCSD are used to meet the needs of the students, not satisfy the whims of the administrators and BOE members. These needs vary throughout the county, but are fairly consistent within each cluster. The Cross Keys cluster needs more schools; the McNair cluster needs more curriculum support. I agree with Dr. Green that equity means everyone getting what they need. A system of charter clusters will allow DCSD to work with each cluster to meet its needs.

**We all are aware of the overcrowding issues in the Cross Keys cluster.  Let's compare that to the McNair cluster, which as Kirk indicated needs a lot of support.  The McNair cluster has 2,329 available seats.

McNair HS Cluster Clifton ES ** Flat Shoals ES ** Kelley Lake ES Meadowview           ES ** McNair ES** McNair MS McNair HS Subgroup Total
Hispanic 24 6 8 6 21 26 16 107
American Indian 0 0 0 1 0 1 3 5
Asian 0 0 0 2 0 2 2 6
Black 326 605 354 298 837 635 761 3,816
Pacific Islander 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 3
White 10 2 1 4 12 8 7 44
2 or more Races 5 2 6 5 5 1 6 30
Total School Enrollment 365 617 369 316 875 674 795
Total Cluster Enrollment 4,011
2014 Capacity 702 632 484 477 997 1,524 1,524
Capacity (+/-) 337 15 115 161 122 850 729 2,329


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