School rezoning discussion devolves into arguments

A forum to discuss school rezoning devolved into a series of cross-neighborhood arguments over potential gang violence and a years-old deal among school board members.

 

The Richmond County school system held today's forum specifically to address the rezoning of schools for the proposed merger of Milledge and Lamar elementary schools and the pending restructuring of Tubman Middle School as an alternative education center.

A special school board meeting has been called for 1:45 p.m. next Tuesday for the board to consider approving the rezoning proposals. Under the first proposal, seventh-graders who would have gone to Tubman would go to East Augusta, Murphey and Langford middle schools and some Langford students would be rezoned for Tutt Middle School. Other neighboring schools are also affected.

Under the second proposal, Milledge Elementary pupils would be sent to Lamar Elementary and half of Lamar would go to Craig-Houghton Elementary. When a new Milledge is created, all of the Lamar and Milledge pupils would move there.

But much of the discussion focussed on long-standing arguments among various Augusta neighborhoods.

In 2006, board members agreed to keep Garrett and National Hills elementary schools open as a way to get voters to approve a list of sales tax projects. Both west Augusta schools are small and located less than a mile from each other.

Questions were raised today, though, about the wisdom of keeping both open and building a new Garrett, while closing Lamar.

Even school board members were split by the issue.

“I don’t see the growth to justify putting $10 million into Garrett,” board member Joe Scott said.

Fellow board member Helen Minchew said voters approved the list of projects and the board must honor its word to build them.

Garrett and National Hills were included on the list, as were football stadiums and other projects, as a way to sweeten the sales tax proposal and ensure its passing.

Another parent raised concerns about mixing children from Harrisburg and downtown through rezoning, saying that the move creates a potentially dangerous situation because the two neighborhoods have never gotten along.

But Dr. Bedden said children shouldn’t be labeled, adding that he has experience working in large urban school systems divided by neighborhood violence.

“What we expect from our kids, we get from our kids,” the superintendent said. “This doesn’t come close to what I’ve seen.”

Dr. Bedden referred to consoling school children after a classmate was decapitated, burned and stuffed in a barrel, but also spoke of communities coming together when given the chance.

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