Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher said prior to a Dec. 6 forum that feedback on a proposed attendance zone for McAllister Elementary to date had beem positive.
The negative came Thursday at the Board of Education meeting at Richmond Hill High School, as a Dunham Marsh resident spoke out against a proposal which would leave his neighborhood out of the attendance zone for McAllister when it opens its doors next fall.
Nick Hatala read from a prepared statement for nearly six minutes as he told BoE members he was “extremely disappointed” in the proposed attendance zones and the way the forums were designed.
Hatala said neither community input “nor advertised talking points” such as student safety were considered in the current proposal, and noted Dunham Marsh is only three miles from the school.
He also pointed to left turns the proposed zones will mean for residents who live down Spur 144 and will attend the new school and those in Dunham Marsh who will go to schools in Richmond Hill.
“Requiring those residents (of Spur 144) and buses to cross Highway 144 every morning will impede northbound Highway 144 traffic, increase the chance for accidents and decrease school bus efficiency,” he said. “Dunham Marsh residents will encounter the same risk while traveling to the north Richmond Hill schools.”
Hatala brought up the 2010 fatal wreck at Highway 144 and Brisbon Road between a motorcyclists and a school bus, and said the school board could prevent a similar crash by sending Spur 144 students to school sin Richmond Hill and Dunham Marsh students to the new school.
He also cautioned school board members to leave districts in place once they decided, regardless of how they’re drawn now, and chastised the BoE as well, saying an unnamed member missed a meeting on redistricting at which the attendance line was drawn.
“I would expect that future discussions of future proposals of this magnitude include all board members,” he said. “You are elected to represent all of our districts and many voters in this district voted yes for SLOST with the mindset that a South Bryan elementary school would include a neighborhood that’s only six minutes away.”
Hatala left after speaking, but school board members responded during time regularly set aside for each to comment. Usually, that’s to thank the host school principal and comment on what’s taken place during the meeting.
District 1 representative Paine Bacon started by thanking Hatala for coming.
“I want to thank Mr. Hatala for coming in and giving his opinion,” Bacon said. “We always like to hear from the community any time we can.”
District 2 representative Dennis Seger said it was important people knew why the unnamed board member was absent from the meeting referred to by Hatala – “the board member was sick and his father was sick,” Seger said. “That’s the only meeting where only six of the seven board members were there.”
He said the BoE has spent “countless hours” on the issue and “we’ve butted our heads over it. It’s taken me six years to learn that you’re not going to please everybody.”
District 3 member Amy Murphy said her child was also left out of the McAllister attendance zone, but “I would have been happy either way.”
Murphy said her view might be different from other parents because of her position.
“I know I have a different perspective because I sit in this seat,” she said. “I get to go to all of our schools in our county and see all of the amazing things going on.”
Murphy said the new school attendance zones and a new school, “won’t break us. We’re not that fragile. We have such talent all across the board. “
She also said the BoE has worked on the new school and its attendance zone for years. .
“It started before (Superintendent) Dr. (Paul) Brooksher got here, and when he arrived one of his first orders of business was to have the superintendent of Paulding County come speak to us<” Murphy said. “At the time it was one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, and he shared with us all the things he’d learned going through the districting process in a community growing so quickly.”
Murphy said that information helped guide this school board in its decision making, while also giving her a sense that other communities go through the same growing pains.
“I remember his sharing with us just the anxiety that community felt, those worries they had, and people calling him and how much time he spent talking with people,” Murphy said. “I remember him telling us he would say to people, ‘give it a few weeks. Let us open our doors and if you still have concerns you call me after that, just give it a few weeks.’ I remember him saying he got not one single call after that.”
Murphy said she thinks the board will make the right call, whatever that call is. The BoE will have a final forum on Jan. 6 at Richmond Hill Middle School, then could vote on the proposed attendance zone in February.
“I truly believe we’re trying to do it the right way,” she said. “We have the talent to do it the right way, and that is what is going to happen in Bryan County. When the dust settles in Richmond Hill, it’s all going to be successful. And our students will be successful, not matter what school they attend.”
District 5 member David Schwartz kept his remarks brief.
“Bricks and mortar don’t make a school,” he said. “Teachers do, and in Bryan County we make sure we have the best teachers in all our schools.”
Note: Prior to Thursday's meeting, Bryan County School Board Chairman Eddie Warren and BoE members Marianne Smith, Pain Bacon and David Schwartz were sworn in for their new terms. All four ran unopposed.