Atlanta school officials Wednesday night assured parents that APS remains confident in a fall 2013 opening for the new high school on Northside Parkway.
Alvah Hardy, APS director of facilities services, said that the school's "design needs to be finished" by Nov. 7 and that the school system is "way ahead of schedule" in meeting that deadline, which comes a day before the vote on the SPLOST IV 1-cent sales tax.
That certainty, in response to a statement from parent Reid Olney that completion of the new high school "opens up the process to solve other problems" with ovecrowding in Buckhead schools, was one of the few definitive answers school officials offered to parents, who expressed their frustrations with packed classrooms and inadequate supplies.
School Superintendent Erroll Davis calmly reacted to often upset parents from and elementary schools, saying the classrooms of 28 to 30 students are the result of budget shortages. Davis asserted that the main ingredient to a good education is effective teachers rather than class sizes and said the APS is committed to removing "ineffective" teachers.
"The size of classrooms is not the most important variable" in eductation, he said. "The most important variable is the effectiveness of teachers." That answer didn't soothe parents, who continued to complain about large classes.
During the evening, no one mentioned the APS accreditation probation. A decision on removing APS high schools from probation is to be released soon, and Davis has expressed confidence that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and its parent organization AdvancED will fully restore the system's accreditation.
Davis appeared puzzled at a parent's statement that APS officials last spring had sent out an e-mail expressing support for the development of a sixth grade academy at the present and a seventh and eighth grade component at the current North Atlanta building, which is to be used to relieve overcrowding at Sutton. Yet Davis said he was unaware of the sixth-grade academy option. He also didn't definitely say whether two middle schools would be developed in Buckhead. "No decisions have been made in that regard," he said.
An APS demographics study, also to be completed by next month, will help the school system determine answers about building the new school and middle school options, Davis said.
He gave the audience gathered at the meeting, organized by District 4 school board member Nancy Meister, a rundown of the SPLOST IV projects, which would continue the 1-cent sales tax began with SPLOST I in 1996. The SPLOST IV includes renovation at E. Rivers, delayed under the previous SPLOST, and which is now overcrowded and is using an auditorium for four classrooms. The SPLOST also calls for construction of a new elementary school in north Atlanta. At large school board member Reuben McDaniel also attended the meeting.
Unable by law to endorse a "yes" vote for the SPLOST, Davis gave a factual presentation on the SPLOST IV, which would bring $68 mlllion into Meister's area. The continuation of the 1-cent tax would total $520 million.
Davis pointed out that under the 1-cent sales tax, city residents pay 60 percent of the total, with the rest borne by workers from the suburbs, conventioneers and vacationers. If the SPLOST fails, he said, the APS school board could increase city property taxes by the 5.31 mils reduced in the original SPLOST, and the city taxpayers would then bear 100 percent of the tax.
After Davis presentation, Hardy gave a slide show on plans for the North Atlanta High site on Northside Parkway, long a complex for IBM. He said the "spectacular site" allows the APS to use many of the buildings already there, including one built over a manmade lake.