By Bill Gannon

Because the Fulton County School System is currently redistricting Sandy Springs’ elementary schools, I will offer some remarks concerning their history. Then I will comment on the ongoing school construction, recommended attendance boundaries and the High Point-Ridgeview Coalition for Better Schools.

From the 1960s until 2005, county commissioners and school board officials from other parts of Fulton County told the residents of Sandy Springs that it was acceptable for our population to be significantly increased by adding density along Roswell Road while at the same time selling off our elementary school properties. This was the same line of faulty reasoning that figured somehow the Fulton County Commissioners would be able to provide Sandy Springs with high levels of public safety and adequate zoning protections for our 34 unincorporated square miles (between Atlanta and Roswell).

In the last 30 years the Fulton County School System has closed and sold off for profit the following elementary schools: Guy Webb, Riley, Hammond, Liberty Gwinn and Underwood Hills. During this same period of time, a large disconnect has been created between many of those residents who use the public schools versus those residents and businesses who pay school property taxes. For example, the majority of homeowners who live within a mile of my house do not know the name of our local elementary school or even its location – but they do know that more than 52 percent of their property taxes go to the Fulton County School System annually – and they are concerned this percentage and amount may possibly be going up in future years. In other words, previous zoning practices in Sandy Springs, coupled with a reduction in the capacity of elementary schools, has encouraged families with children to move to adjacent communities (such as East Cobb, Roswell and Dunwoody). Currently, many families believe they must either send their children to private schools – or leave Sandy Springs altogether.

But now, in this above-described environment, there is a chance for Sandy Springs to move forward because of the Fulton County School System’s construction of two new elementary schools (Lake Forrest and Ison Road). Currently there is a city-wide redistricting of our seven elementary schools, which includes the new schools. And, I hope an 8th elementary school can be added in the not too distant future; the capacity of our elementary schools is indeed headed in the right direction.

Regarding conditions at the five existing elementary schools, the addition of the two new schools will clearly reduce overcrowding and provide a substantial improvement in the overall school experience. For example, at High Point ES, children will no longer have to start eating lunch at 10:30 a.m. each school day.

Also regarding High Point ES, our nearby neighborhood organizations decided to form a coalition in an effort to effectively participate in the school system’s redistricting process. Our tasks included (1) getting informed, (2) establishing recommendations, (3) educating residents – both in the High Point area & throughout Sandy Springs, (4) promoting our goals and (5) making a difference in the attendance boundaries that will ultimately be approved by the Fulton County School Board.

One of the coalition’s primary recommendations is for Roswell Road to once again be used as an attendance boundary whenever practical (especially from Abernathy down to Windsor Parkway). In other words, in the southern portion of Sandy Springs, the three elementary schools west of Roswell Road (Spalding, Lake Forrest and Heards Ferry) should serve those children living in that area. This recommendation was based on the school board’s criteria regarding traffic and safety issues – and we are gratified that most of our recommendations were included in the Map A alternative that the Planning Department presented at the round III meeting at North Springs High School on Dec. 10. Map A is the alternative that our coalition believes is the best for Sandy Springs.

As part of the redistricting process and debate, our coalition presented recommendations to each elected official in Sandy Springs (i.e., mayor, council, state representatives and our two school board representatives). Some of these officials have publicly endorsed all of our recommendations; some have endorsed some of our recommendations; some have decided to remain silent and none have voiced any public opposition to them. Our coalition thanks each of them for their input, effort and consideration.

The High Point-Ridgeview Coalition for Better Schools is dedicated to providing all Sandy Springs children better access to public schools. We also believe our recommended attendance boundaries will encourage greater neighborhood and taxpayer support for public schools in Sandy Springs. Once the school board approves the new attendance boundaries in February 2008, our coalition plans to work to improve our neighborhoods’ participation rates at our neighborhood elementary school.