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
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."