Creekside overcrowding

Georgia College professor of geography Dr. Doug Oetter has been presenting his map with proposed attendance zones to parents and community stakeholders at forums this week.

Baldwin County Charter School District officials, led by Superintendent Dr. Noris Price, are taking a long look at both sides of the equation to correct the overcrowding situation at Creekside Elementary.

A shifting of attendance zones is one answer to the problem and in order to do that an expert in maps was needed, which is not something readily at the disposal of the school district. Dr. Price used a resource in the community by reaching out to Georgia College’s Dr. Joseph Peters, dean of the college of education, who in turn produced GC geography professor Dr. Doug Oetter.

Since then, Dr. Oetter has presented to Board of Education at its retreat the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and at the first two of four community forums where redistricting is being discussed with parents and school stakeholders.

“The challenge for me - I was asked to do by Dr. Price and the board on your behalf was to come up with a new way of redistricting the county, staying with four districts because that’s how many schools we have, trying to balance it as much as possible with each at 25 percent, while at the same time making the boundaries make sense especially for transportation because we have buses and we have carpools,” Oetter said at Tuesday night’s forum held at Eagle Ridge Elementary. “It should also make a little bit of geographic sense in that I wouldn’t want your child going to a different school than your neighbor. It makes sense that neighborhoods should be kept together.”

When the professor first presented to the board at November’s retreat, his data only included numbers from the last census taken in 2010. That data stated that there were 3,160 elementary age children in Baldwin County while current enrollment totals are at 2,825, according to data shown at the forums. At the suggestion of board member John Jackson, District 4, Oetter has since changed the scope to include the addresses of students in the county currently attending schools. Those numbers provided by the district showed that they only have addresses of 2,654 children. The remaining 171 students of the 2,825 total enrollment have post office boxes as their addresses, have provided no address at all, or are from another county.

“In case you did not know, any child outside of our district can attend our district by paying tuition,” Dr. Price said Tuesday night. “So we do allow students [from other counties] to attend our district; they have to pay tuition. Most of those students their parents work in Baldwin County and want their children close to them.”

Before revealing the map with new attendance zones overlain with current address information Tuesday night, Oetter showed approximately 50 Eagle Ridge parents and district personnel the one currently in use, which was drawn back in 1997.

“Most of these boundaries were drawn by someone who was well intentioned, did the right thing, and was thinking about some of the same things that we’re thinking about,” he said.

Oetter then provided numbers showing that say according to current attendance zones and address information that enrollment at Eagle Ridge should be over 1,100 when it is in fact at 740.

“That was a surprise to me, to see how many are in this school district,” the professor said.

“What that tells us is that we have children that should be attending Eagle Ridge that are attending other schools,” said Dr. Price. “We have to address that.”

The geography professor then produced a map of Baldwin County with proposed new attendance zones and showed data from the 2,654 students for which the school district has addresses. The proposed scenario would make Midway’s district significantly larger.

“One of the first things you’ll notice here is a completely new division between Eagle Ridge and Midway,” he said. “The logic here was that with the Fall Line Freeway bridge opening up people in the southeastern portion of the county will have a much quicker route to get to Midway. We might as well take advantage of that.”

Midway’s district is currently the southern portion of Baldwin County. Oetter’s proposed new zone for Midway swings eastward and north to the intersection of Kings and Stembridge Roads.

Oetter also gave part of Creekside’s district over to Blandy Hills in order to address overcrowding.

“Creekside does not go all the way into the west portion of downtown. That now comes to Blandy Hills, so that helped reduce some of the stress on Eagle Ridge and also reduce some of the stress on Creekside and increased the populations of Blandy Hills and Midway.”

Dr. Price has stressed to those in attendance of the first two community meetings that the map produced by Oetter is only a proposal, and is subject to change before the board votes.

The proposed attendance lines would do a better job of balancing enrollment at each school and also be a more efficient use of resources for the district. Of course that’s not the only option on the table as Dr. Price and the board could also decide to reconfigure grade levels at the elementary schools.

Two more community forums are scheduled for today with one at Blandy at 8 a.m. and another at Midway at 5:30 p.m. Dr. Price says the plan is for her to bring a recommendation to the BOE and have them vote at February’s meeting.

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