Shifting zones for schools is forums' topic

Proposals to rezone three middle schools and a high school are ready to be pitched to Richmond County residents, and more rezoning proposals are on the way.

Public forums will be held Monday and Tuesday to discuss the rezoning of Sego, Spirit Creek and Hephzibah middle schools to accommodate the opening of the new Pine Hill Middle School in August. Also Tuesday, a forum will be held to address the rezoning of more than 200 students from the Academy of Richmond County to Laney and Josey high schools.

Pine Hill will draw about 600 students from Hephzibah, Spirit Creek and Sego middle schools. Rising eighth-graders at these schools may request permission to stay at their current school. The proposed boundaries for Pine Hill are U.S. Highway 25 on the west, Butler Creek on the north, the Savannah River on the east and the county line on the south.

There had been talk of adding special programming, such as a fine arts emphasis, to the school, but that is on hold.

"We have not taken any further steps to add or doing anything with a fine arts program at Pine Hill due to economic uncertainty," Superintendent Dana Bedden said in an e-mail.

The school board approved its new goals for the year Tuesday, including reorganizing school feeder patterns -- the way in which elementary schools feed into middle schools and middle schools into high schools.

Part of that could be addressed by rezoning students at Richmond Academy.

"ARC is at the maximum capacity," board member Helen Minchew said. "It's full. It needs some relief."

Also in the works is a plan to rezone all middle schools next school year. The board gave the go-ahead Tuesday, although that won't be discussed directly at the forums this week. The rezoning was recommended by consultants performing "rightsizing," a process to determine the best use of facilities.

The process found instances where entire neighborhoods were zoned for a particular school, while a few houses in that same community were zoned for a different school. It also found that most schools didn't have direct school to school feeder patterns.

"Any work with rezoning is done to create better school to school feeder patterns which will provide for more effective education and efficient use of resources," Dr. Bedden wrote in an e-mail.

The school board has given tentative approval to the new zone for Pine Hill, but won't make a final decision until after receiving feedback from the public at the forums.

Ultimately, all rezoning must be approved by the court system because Richmond County remains under a federal desegregation order.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

The public is invited to separate Richmond County rezoning discussions Monday and Tuesday.

WHAT: Pine Hill Middle School rezoning forum

- 5:30 p.m. Monday at Hephzibah Middle School auditorium

- 7:30 p.m. Monday at Spirit Creek Middle School auditorium

- 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cross Creek High School auditorium

WHAT: Academy of Richmond County rezoning forum

- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School auditorium