Wednesday, April 4, 2007

This Seems Like a Bad Idea

Because of new construction, the Bibb County School Board has the unenviable task of redistricting. One portion of a plan being discussed includes busing kids past a brand new middle school near their neighborhood, down the interstate to a different middle school. That doesn't make much sense to me, especially if the school they are being bussed passed has empty seats, and the school they will be attending is pushing capacity. Yet, this would be the reality of one plan the Bibb County School Board is considering. Without boring you to tears, what I am talking about is a possible plan to send children from Bruce Elementary to Rutland Middle School instead of to Bloomfield or Ballard Hudson. Based on the numbers I have seen, it is projected that, under this plan, Rutland would be full, but Bloomfield and Ballard Hudson would have more than 400 empty seats.

What could possibly justify such a plan?

In Bibb County, our public schools are 70+% African-American. Because of "white flight" to private schools, our public schools do not reflect the demographics of our community. If proximity were the determining factor, then despite the overall demographics of the system, Rutland Middle School would be majority white. I, personally, do not believe that it is a good idea to "re-segregate" our schools; however, I also think that, given the choice, most parents would choose to send their children to a quality neighborhood school rather than having them bussed across town. I also think that as a result of "white flight," we essentially already have two separate, largely segregated school systems in our community.

This is a potentially nasty, divisive issue, but perhaps in it there is an opportunity to think creatively. In Bibb, about 20% of our children attend private school. We lose many of those families at the transition to middle school. What if we did something truly bold? What if we created attendance zones for our middle schools but also gave parents choice about which school they wanted their child to attend, provided space was available and they were willing to provide the transportation if the school was outside their zone? Parents would feel more control, more invested and schools would be competing for students. And maybe, just maybe, more families who can afford to send their children to private school would instead choose to stay in public system. This may not be "the" solution, but I do believe that this is the time for "out of the box" thinking. I hope that as discussion on this continues, our school board will do just that.

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