Thursday, February 10, 2011

School Locational Decisions and Land Use: A Growing Problem

An interesting item came to my attention thanks to Henry Batten of Lindbergh-LaVista Corridor Coalition and I thought readers here might enjoy. Here is the executive summary of the twenty page document you can find here.

from Land Matters, a publications of the Atlanta Regional Commission

"Executive Summary
Decisions on where to locate schools can substantially impact land use in their surrounding communities, implying a need for linkages between school planning and community planning. This paper explores the linkages between school siting and land use and how those linkages might be improved.
The changing locations of schools and the consequences. As suburbanization became the dominant form of development in the United States, trends in school siting and school design have deemphasized neighborhood schools in favor of larger schools often situated on the fringe of a community. As a result, students must travel greater distances to get to their schools, leading to a number of negative effects:
* Increased traffic congestion and related effects. More to-and-from school traffic means more traffic congestion, which wastes the time of commuters, causes more accidents, imposes higher school bus costs, and pollutes the environment.
* Increased childhood obesity. Longer distances to schools mean fewer children who walk or bike to schools. That contributes to childhood obesity, which has quickly become a primary health issue for the current generation of children.
The benefits of linking schools and communities. Better school siting decisions, on the other hand, can reduce these problems and promote other benefits, including:
* Better match of development and new school capacity. Local governments can help schools develop more accurate enrollment projections by informing school districts of proposed subdivisions and planning and zoning changes.
* Better alignment of local comprehensive and school facility plans. Local governments and school districts could ensure that their plans are consistent with each other’s.
* Better connectivity between schools and adjacent neighborhoods. The siting of new schools could be better integrated into existing or planned subdivisions.
* More use of schools for other community purposes. Better school siting increases the potential for schools being a central institution in a community, with facilities that meet the needs of more than just the students who attend a school.
Obstacles to collaboration. Yet, many obstacles lie along the path to this collaboration. For one, school location decisions often prove controversial and politically difficult. As well, there is a frequent lack of communication and shared financial responsibilities between school boards and local government agencies, which mostly operate independently of one another.
Policy options for improving school siting decisions. A review of efforts elsewhere shows a variety of options for encouraging better decision making on school locations.
* Reduce minimum acreage requirements. Instead of insisting on arbitrary acreage standards, states should ask school districts to base the size of school sites on the needs of educational programs. While states often allow for exceptions to their minimum acreage requirements, the process to do so can often be complex and time-consuming. By eliminating these requirements, school boards and local governments would be in a better position to determine the needs of their particular community without having to face significant levels of bureaucratic red tape in determining the size of their campuses.
* Revise school funding formulas to favor existing sites. Revising school funding formulas in this manner would offer communities a way to accommodate growth in student populations without consuming unnecessary land and resources.
* Require schools be located in areas with existing infrastructure. States can link funding to efforts to locate schools consistent with efficient growth principles.
* Increase requirements for school district-local government collaboration. States can require collaborative planning between local governments and school districts.
Possible action steps for the Atlanta Region. Possible action steps for the Atlanta Region should focus on both local governments and Georgia’s state government. At the state level, efforts should focus on several of the policy options just reviewed:
* Reduce or eliminate minimum acreage requirements for schools.
* Mandate or encourage coordination between school boards and local governments on school siting and related land-use decisions.
* Loosen regulations that require construction of a new school if the cost of bringing an existing school up to standards exceeds the state’s reimbursement rate.
Action steps are also possible at the local level in the Atlanta Region. For example:
* Spread the word on the significance of school siting decisions. With many people still failing to grasp the significance of these decisions, a way must be found to get the word out on their frequent negative impacts.
* Encourage citizen advocacy of better siting decisions. Citizens might advocate for better school siting decisions, discouraging the traditional path of “school sprawl.”
* Encourage more cooperation and coordination between school boards and other local governments. School boards and other governments are likely to achieve more cooperation and coordination if they come together voluntarily, not due to state law.

Create an informal advisory committee to consult with school boards on siting decisions. An advisory committee might offer on a volunteer basis informal counsel to school districts contemplating the siting of new schools.
Pursuing one or more of these action options promises to improve decision-making on the siting of schools, helping in the battles against obesity, traffic congestion, pollution, and the decline of communities."


Wyndy Amerson said...

Kim, it's a great plan but the wisdom of those in charge have decided bigger is better. I loved the fact that my boys could ride a bike to their elementary and high school until it wasn't cool. Parents need to make it cool to walk and ride bikes to school. Sidewalks should be required around all schools. It would decrease traffic and help promote healthy lifestyles. With all changes in lifestyles, parents are still the best role models for their children.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where to post I'll try here.

Kim: Interesting and complementary comments about CK teacher!

Anonymous said...

All of the items mentioned in the article make too much sense; therefore they will be abandoned in favor of the decision making process in the court of being politically correct. Which usually results in spending more money, lengthening the decision making process and receiving a less than desirable or inferior product.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "reduce minimum acreage requirements for schools" - I don't know if I can agree.

The new Chamblee Middle School is a lovely neighborhood school but it was squeezed on to the site.

The athletic teams have no practice field, except for the decidedly non-flat center of a very small 2-lane (2-lane!) running track.

The minimum site puts the football teams at a decided disadvantage versus other middle schools such as Henderson and Peachtree Charter which have lots of land.

It also means that PE classes are limited in what they can do.

Anonymous said...

Here is some other information regarding this topic from the CDC. The title of this document is "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States". Strategy #19 is titled "Communities Should Support Locating Schools within Easy Walking Distance of Residential Areas".

Anonymous said...

To follow up on what Anon 5:12 posted:
One of the first comments in the article is how increasing the distance between a neighborhood and its school has reduced childrens' activity and increased childhood obesity.

Then later in the article it says reduce the acreage requirements. That would mean reducing the amount of playgrounds or sports fields - which also leads to less activity and more obesity.

So which is it going to be? The article contradicts itself on this issue.

Anonymous said...

The Community Review newspaper, which covered DeKalb but folded a few years back, had a great story about the school system and the county and school location. They don't work together. The system has principals in positions in which they have no expertise. The article was about a horrible location picked for a school but Stan Pritchett, a former principal who was then moved to run Sam Moss, which he ran into the ground.

Florida has something called concurrency, where local governments and school systems have to work very closely toegther for school locations and new schools.
They also took the system to task for placing career educator Dr. Stan Pritchett, who had no construction experience, in charge of the program.

"The selection of an individual with no construction experience prior to SPLOST, to be the DCSS point person for the Program (which included the role of oversight of Heery/Mitchell), was not in the best interests of DeKalb County School System," they said. "This role should have been filled by someone with construction experience."

Brand new Lithonia High is already overcrowded
Last month 1,800 students moved into the new Lithonia High School at the intersection of Marbut and Phillips Road in Lithonia.

That was 200 students more than the 188,000-square-foot buildings were built to hold, and on Oct. 21, the first day in the school, students also were being housed in six portable classrooms. Despite building nine schools over the last five years, DeKalb has more than 600 portable classrooms.

Stan Pritchett, the school system's associate superintendent of business and plant services, blamed the area's continued growth for overcrowding at the new $18 million school.

"We are trying to be as aggressive as we can in building new classrooms," he said, "but it's a systemic problem. The area continues to grow faster than we can build."

Five years ago when the school was planned, space for 1,600 students was considered adequate. Since then, hundreds of homes have been built in subdivisions in the area served by the school.

The new Lithonia High School, funded from the 1997 Special Local Option Sales Tax, should have opened in fall 2001 but was delayed when the county had to fire the original contractor. A second contractor was hired to finish the buildings. Pritchett said insurance is covering the additional costs of the delays and that the school will not cost taxpayers more than $18 million.

The former Lithonia High will be renovated at a cost of $8 million and is scheduled to open next fall as Lithonia Middle School.

Pritchett said the buildings, some of which date back to 1938, will be gutted and completely overhauled. A new 14-room building also will be added. Construction is slated to start in early November.

He said overcrowding at the new Lithonia High School should be alleviated by construction of Miller Grove High School to be built on DeKalb Medical Center Parkway and scheduled to open fall 2004.

The 220,000-square-foot school is slated to open in fall 2004. It will cost $30 million to build and is being funded from the new SPLOST passed by voters in March. It will have 83 classrooms and absorb some of the students who now go to Lithonia High.

Anonymous said...

Stan Pritchett is married to Sharon Lewis Pritchett. Is she related to Crawford Lewis? Look at her position per the 2004 state Salary and Travel audit:
Pritchett, Sharon L. Paraprofessional/Teacher Aide $85,025

Three years later in the 2007 state Salary and Travel audit:

Anonymous said...

argh..... any relation? anyone know.... pleare report this stuff to SACS and to the state school board (copy legislators...).

Anonymous said...

Sharon Pritchett is a white woman. I doubt if she's related to Dr. Lewis.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:55 pm
"Sharon Pritchett is a white woman. I doubt if she's related to Dr. Lewis."

Stan Pritchett's wife is Sharon Lewis Pritchett. Look on page 16 of the Episcopal Lay notebook (see link below) to see her picture with her husband Stan. You might want to share that information about being white with her.

Kim Gokce said...

Wnydy, I think that the recommendations are very admirable. I also think that we in DeKalb have gravely complicated our planning and operations situation due to major failures in leadership and decision-making.

I am probably becoming quite boring for repeating the same complaints on this blog but ... for me, looking back to the 1980's and the change-over to "junior high" format is when the real hurt began.

Our school locations, our attendance area woes, and our transportation expenses have been far from ideal ever since. After nearly thirty years from the time these planning decisions were made to create middle schools, our plant and attendance areas are still not aligned to that programmatic format.

Families in Brookhaven are closer to Chamblee Middle School than Sequoyah MS. Families in a large chunk of Lakeside HS attendance are much closer to Shamrock MS than Henderson MS, and the list goes on and on ... we muffed the planning decisions on middle school change and we can't seem to wriggle out of the mess we've created.

Our elementary school locations and capacities are relics of the simpler k-7/8-12 period when neighborhood ES was a spoke that fed into a centralized HS location. We've never addressed this mis-match in plant to program - never in over 30 years.

I put this failure of leadership and decision-making at the heart of today's woes ... the re-districting, the magnet controversies, and the fear and loathing throughout many neighborhoods all have their root in the dereliction of this duty to rationalize our physical plant ... thirty years and counting ...

Kim Gokce said...

Anon: Feb 10 11am "article"

Thank you for that - yes, I picked that up and circulated a while ago. Mahavier is an incredibly dedicated teacher and a community asset and deserves all the recognition she gets.

As an advocate for Cross Keys attendance area schools, I have to be mindful that this blog is about more than my particular favorite seven DeKalb schools: Oakcliff ES, Cary Reynolds ES, Dresden ES, Montclair ES, Woodward ES, Seqouyah MS, and Cross Keys HS. :)

Anonymous said...

Prior to the initial Middle schools coming on line (Cross Keys, Dunwoody, McNair, Stone Mountain) it was possible for many students to be able to walk to school for at least the first 7 years of education. In areas where the high school (8-12) was adjacent to the elementary (k-7), students could walk all 12 years.
After the middle schools came online in these areas, bus transportation was required for at least a portion of any student in the area's education. Hello, bus contracts!
The need for bus contracts would have drastically been curtailed if k-7 elementaries had been kept. There was a danger of this having occurred, had SPLOST 1 not been passed.
The reason for the reduced need for buses was this: the deseg
suit was finally settled in '96.
No mandated busing, fewer bus purchases.
With SPLOST 1, this threat was negated: middle schools constructed right and left, and, THEME schools! With the Theme schools attendance areas were split between many elementaries.
Bus contract a go-go!
Splost 1 and 2 had many arbitrary locations picked for new schools: the further from housing the better (if you happened to be championing bus contracts).
The same individual was over transportation and school locations at the time (cue the scary music): Stan Pritchett.
Put the schools out in the hinterlands, buy buses by the bushel. That's how money's made.
(For the companies getting the contracts, for starters. Potential for others to maybe benefit? Could be.

Anonymous said...

It's only been until the last year or so that DCSS has actually had a conversation with DeKalb County planning. Wasn't it those "vociferous" parents at Nancy Creek who uncovered the fact that no conversation had taken place before the last "smaller" redistricting plan was passed 4 years ago, using that cut and paste fraud of a demographers report?

DCSS had no one on staff that knew how to use the GIS data software, that is used to project population movements. Now we have Dan Drake, he does know how to use the GIS System.

Kim is right, this whole thing feels like trying to turn an Aircraft Carrier around in the Panama Canal. We're reaping what has been sowed for years and it's sad we can't trust the people making the decisions right now, since it was their indicted bosses who got us in this current mess in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Stan Pritchett:

Two Morris Brown College security officers have been suspended and other officers at the financially strapped Atlanta school have been told not to work off-duty jobs, is reporting.

The move came after Channel 2 Action News questioned several officers’ credentials and learned the college's Police Department is under state investigation, accused of employing officers just to work off-duty jobs.

Morris Brown President Stanley Pritchett Sr. said effective immediately there would only be three officers wearing Morris Brown uniforms on staff and they would only patrol the school campus, according to the article.

Pritchett said he also planned to investigate if his college Police Department served as a front for a private security firm, and if some of the employees were impersonating officers.

“We’re appalled at what we are seeing and we’re doing something about it in a very expeditious manner,” Pritchett said. “We are disappointed with the evidence and the facts that we are uncovering as we move forward,” Pritchett told Channel 2.

**More at

Looks like Peter Principle again.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 3:35 PM

It is important to keep in mind that the present DCSS "leadership" -- and I use that word advisedly -- are part and parcel of the whole hot mess that is DCSS.

Ramona Tyson was the COO under Lewis. She had to know what was going on. She may not be that far away from an indictment herself.

Further, Ramona Tyson was in charge of IT where no one knew how to work many of the software programs that Tyson, herself, lobbied for -- including the GIS program. Frances Edwards' son, Jamal, was hired by Tyson to work in IT. He did not report to work for 6 months, but Tyson was unaware. Was he summarily fired? No! Tyson gave him a promotion. IT has a $2 million payroll, but most of the work is contracted out at an additional cost. I have stories I could tell about Tyson and IT, but no one would believe them.

I was one of the parents who spoke up for Nancy Creek. McKibben Demographic Research, who did the demographic "study" -- another word I use advisedly -- (for which DCSS paid more than $100,000) did not even know that small towns and cities in DeKalb County (such as Chamblee) issue their own building permits.

DeKalb County does not issue permits for construction inside the city limits of these small cities. McKibben checked only with DeKalb County for building permits. In spite of land being cleared and construction clearly underway, McKibben said there was no construction and no growth expected. Photos were sent to Crawford Lewis and he was invited to take a drive around Chamblee to see all of the new construction. He refused.

Tyson intimated that she would finally do the hard work of being a superintendent if the BOE would give her an exorbitant raise. Well, she got her raise, to do a job she is clearly not qualified to do.

So far Tyson has done nothing. Based on her history, nothing is pretty much what she is qualified to do.

The Palace bloat -- a significant source of much needed funds for teachers and classrooms -- is still a stinking, bloated, disgusting mess of undertalented, overpaid friends-and-family gravy train.

Trust these people? Hell, no! They have done nothing to earn our trust. Tyson is great at that.

Anonymous said...

"IT has a $2 million payroll, but most of the work is contracted out at an additional cost.'

You are incorrect. IT has a $20,000,000 payroll.

Anonymous said...

@12:42 AM, I think that's his mother.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymlous 9:28
"I think that's his mother."

Nope. The publication says...“other visitors and proudly acknowledged his lovely wife, Dr. Sharon Lewis Pritchett."

Unless his mom and his wife are both named Sharon Lewis Pritchett, that’s his wife, and she was listed as a paraprofessional in 2004 and made $85,000 in salary, and by 2007 was listed as an Instructional Supervisor making $101,724 ($127,000 in salary and benefits).

Stan Pritchett was a very close friend of Crawford Lewis. I just wondered if Dr. Pritchett’s wife Sharon Lewis Pritchett was related to Crawford Lewis. Maybe it was just a case of friend of the "Friends and Family Plan".

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 3:35 PM and Anonymous 8:27 PM

Not to belabor the point, but DCSS IT has a $200,000,000 (that's two hundred million dollars) payroll with most of the work contracted out at additional cost. DCSS IT is a friends-and-family haven.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 12:36

IT does not have a $200,000,000 payroll. Go to the state audit website below and you will see that the salary and benefits of this group of around 290 employees is close to $20,000,000. The figure you are quoting is probably the expenditure on IT equipment in the past 5 years. The private data network they decided to spend almost all of the SPLOST II funds on was in the tens of millions. It still consumes vast amounts of money as almost all of the MIS employees deal with the care and feeding of the network with little resources going to equipment or software ($20,000,000 in salaries and benefits alone account for $100,000,000 in the last 5 years.

eSis and SchoolNet, neither of which have performed according to specifications, cost $11,000,000. Cellphones, software, software licenses,servers, etc. also cost millions a year.

In addition, all of the computers (10,000+) and the interactive boards (more millions there) have the cost of installation and maintenance built into their upfront cost so that Dell installs and maintains them. That's part of the cost you are referring to - the fact that all installations and maintenance of equipment are contracted out on top of the $20,000,000 a year we pay the MIS personnel.

So yes, over the last 5 years, DCSS has easily spent $200,000,000 in IT (salaries and benefits for employees, private network, hardware, software, and subscriptions), but the actual salary and benefits portion for the full time employees is around $20,000,000 a year. This is still an astounding figure given the poor level of service to the schools.

This department needs an audit to see how well it is serving teachers and students for the money spent. Any audits that have been done have originated from the IT department.

An independent audit needs to be done from a group outside DCSS that also surveys teachers and school employees to see if the needs of DCSS students are being met in the area of technology. That would be extremely beneficial to the new superintendent since technology integration and data feedback to teachers is critical in the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

Oops! Here's the state audit website:

Anonymous said...

School projects will be prioritized for the first time based on need and cost efficiency - not "political whim," Christie said.

To save an estimated $4 million per project on the architects, engineers and other construction experts who are hired individually by each district, standardized designs, which can be replicated, will be used.