Buckhead’s representative on the Atlanta Board of Education, Nancy Meister, and Superintendent Erroll Davis went to North Atlanta High School on Oct. 25 to talk about an upcoming vote on a penny sales tax for education and the new North Atlanta High School.
But the third topic on the agenda, overcrowding in Atlanta schools, soon dominated the conversation.
Several parents asked Davis about classroom sizes and the system’s “leveling” process that resulted in moving teachers to different schools based on enrollment.
David said the leveling process could have been smoother this year, but said only a handful of teachers – 15 out of more than 3,000 – were moved. Nine of those teachers came from elementary schools, Davis said.
Atlanta Public Schools in August increased kindergarten classes by three students to 23 per class, in grades 1-3 by four students to 25 per class, and by two students to 30 per class in grades 4-8. Parents at E. Rivers and Morris Brandon elementary schools have complained about the situation to both Meister and Davis.
Davis said part of the problem with school enrollment this year is schools made offers to hire teachers that were not fully credentialed. Davis promised to revise that process.
“I hear such things as, ‘Can (leveling) be done more gradually? Can it be done at a more convenient time,’” Davis said. “I understand and appreciate that perspective. That is not the perspective held by a parent in a classroom that’s overcrowded.”
Davis, who cannot advocate for or against voting for a penny sales tax on Nov. 8, said that if the voters do not approve it they may see an increase in property taxes. The tax, known as the education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) would generate money needed to fund $520 million in school construction, including a new North Atlanta High School.
Parents who attended the meeting said they were impressed by Davis, even if his answers weren’t necessarily what they wanted to hear.
Malcolm Newton, who has a daughter attending North Atlanta High, said he wasn’t sure how many of Davis’ proposed reforms would take effect before his daughter graduates.
“He’s not skirting around any issues,” Newton said. “It’s a huge task he’s undertaking.”
Margaret Warren, co-president of the Morris Brandon parent teacher association, said Davis is “bringing a lot of transparency” to the superintendent’s job.
“He’s doing a wonderful job of incorporating the concerns of the community in a fiscally difficult environment,” Warren said.
Scott Hardesty, a parent at E. Rivers, said he thinks Davis was being prudent with his comments.
“I know he has to be cautious and I think that’s practical,” Hardesty said. “It will disappoint parents concerned about overcrowding if he promises anything at this point.”