Board wrestles with zoning plan

Special
Dana Bedden: Richmond County superinten-dent says overcrowding is evident at the Academy of Richmond County.

The Academy of Richmond County is in need of relief with an enrollment exceeding 120 percent of the school's capacity, but questions remain as to which students to rezone and to where.

Initially, school board members were presented with a plan to take students zoned for Richmond Academy and send them to Josey and Laney high schools. The plan also could include sending students from ARC to Westside High School.

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden said several options are under consideration and will be discussed during a called school board meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday.

"We had to go back to the drawing board," he said.

The area originally selected to rezone to Laney and Josey wouldn't have pulled enough students from ARC, Dr. Bedden said. Part of the problem is the success of the International Baccalaureate program, which is growing and attracting students to Richmond Academy.

In the fall, ARC had 1,464 students, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

ARC is by far the most overcrowded school in the county, Dr. Bedden said. The need to lower the enrollment at the school is evident and could be seen in the video of a large fight at the school a year ago.

"It looked like a herd of cattle moving down the hallway," he said of the mass of students.

The school board is trying to realign all of its schools in hopes of balancing its student populations and reaching an 85 percent to 87 percent capacity at each school. That leaves room for growth and keeps the school operating efficiently.

Helen Minchew, one of the longest serving current board members, said school enrollments have steadily become an issue.

"The only time we have rezoned I can remember is when we opened a new school," she said. "We just didn't have the technology before."

New mapping software will enable the school system to better track population growth and adjust enrollment levels, Mrs. Minchew said.

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