The Lovett School says it has exceeded a nearly two-decade-old student enrollment cap agreement for years after previous administrators forgot about it. Now the Buckhead school wants to boost the cap by 100 students – from 1,560 to 1,660 – to legalize its current enrollment and have flexibility.
“The school is not seeking campus expansion and will remain within its existing footprint,” said Courtney Fowler, a spokesperson for the private K-12 school at 4075 Paces Ferry Road. The enrollment at the beginning of the current school year was 1,614, she said.
The discovery came as a direct result of the school’s attempt to deal with on-campus traffic congestion, which is an issue on Buckhead’s neighborhood streets as well.
The school was awaiting Neighborhood Planning Unit A review of the request, which would be an update to a special use permit that allows it to operate. The application then would go to the Zoning Review Board for a recommendation, possibly in December, followed by a final vote by the City Council.
The school withdrew from NPU-A’s Nov. 5 agenda as neighborhood talks continue. Brink Dickerson, chair of NPU-A, said that neighborhood association response would “weigh significantly” in his group’s vote.
When Meredyth Cole took over as Lovett’s head of school last year, she soon began work on finding solutions for the school’s campus traffic. Fowler said that the school hired the engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to conduct a traffic study and make recommendations, which could include changes to internal roads and sidewalks. Cole asked whether there was an enrollment cap in place that could affect permitting of such improvements, Fowler said, “And nobody had that answer.”
It turned out there was a cap, set in 2000 and affirmed in a 2007 special use permit update. “Our current enrollment cap has been in place for almost 20 years,” Fowler said, but no one in the administration had a memory of it.
It appears that city officials never checked, and there have been no new buildings or other projects that would have altered the enrollment cap.
For at least the past four years, Fowler said, the school has exceeded the cap. The lowest enrollment in that period is this year’s figure of 1,614. The highest was 1,679 in the 2016-17 school year – 119 over the cap.
The school is now seeking to set a new cap of 1,660. “Holding the school to the enrollment cap number of 1,560, originally approved nearly 20 years ago, would certainly impact the school’s employees, current families and prospective new families for next school year,” said Fowler. And even setting it at the current level would be too inflexible and could mean, for example, not enabling all siblings in the same family to enroll, she said.
If the new proposed maximum of 1,660 students did enroll, Fowler said, the existing campus could absorb them. “We would not need to add ‘seats’ or staff, and we are not seeking campus expansion,” she said.
The big question, of course, is what would prevent the school from forgetting a new enrollment cap just like it did the current one.
“As part of our application,” Fowler said, “we are offering to self-report enrollment annually in writing to the [city] office of Planning and Zoning, NPU-A administration and membership, and Paces Civic Association administration and membership.”
While awaiting a permit decision and possible roadway changes, Lovett is tackling traffic in other ways. It gained attention earlier this year for launching a limited school bus service that is moving toward expansion next school year. The school also made changes to its student carpool line with the goal of making it more efficient. And for employees, the school in August launched a carpool program via the state Georgia Commutes program.