November 20, 2013ATLANTA – The Fulton County School System is moving forward with plans to move its headquarters from South Fulton to Sandy Springs, despite a resolution by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners questioning the action.
Last month, the Fulton School System voted to move its headquarters from Cleveland Avenue in South Fulton to a new location 20 miles to the north on Powers Ferry Road in Sandy Springs. Fulton School officials say the location puts the headquarters in the center of its enrollment and employment base, and is the best decision financially for taxpayers. The move will be complete by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
"We created a business plan that saves money and moves toward a more efficient model that redirects money back into the classroom," said Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa. "In the end, that's a win-win for everyone."
But Fulton commissioners decried the action, saying the system is removing resources from an area of need and making it difficult for South Fulton parents to access the school board.
"I'm not trying to get into any [other] government's business, but there were no public hearings as to the equity issues involved with moving the building from this end of the county to the north," said Commissioner William "Bill" Edwards of South Fulton, who sponsored the resolution.
Fulton School Board President Linda Schultz said the move has been considered for years and public hearings are not held when discussing land acquisitions. She did note communication with the public is an issue that the board continues to work on.
"I don't believe it's prudent to discuss land deals in public, but we need to improve on our communication regarding our current administrative structure," said Schultz. "We decentralized our administration staff last year [and] support staff at the learning communities work closely with the communities they serve. That will not change."
In all, six existing buildings will close over the next year, and will be replaced with learning centers in North and South Fulton to consolidate services, as well as the new headquarters.
The commissioners passed the resolution on a 5-0 vote, with North Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann absent. The resolution came toward the end of the seven-hour meeting on Nov. 6, and Hausmann had departed for an evening appointment.
"I do not support the resolution," said Hausmann. "The consolidation of the school system administration makes operational and financial sense [and] the decision is data driven. I find it very unfortunate that the Fulton County Commission would take a position that is purely emotional."
Hausmann previously served on the Fulton County Board of Education.
Edwards said moving the headquarters out of South Fulton sends the wrong message to residents and the business community.
"One thing we have in [South Fulton] is the perception of a bad school system, and it has hurt our economic development efforts in the area," said Edwards. "And with moving the headquarters up to Sandy Springs, it gives the impression that you are abandoning an area that is already hurting."
Avossa countered that "buildings don't teach children…teachers teach children," rejecting the idea that location of the administrative building would have any impact on student achievement.
The commissioners recognized the resolution was merely symbolic – the school system closed on the property two days prior to the resolution – but held out hope the school board will continue its practice of rotating board meetings between the south and north. The Fulton School System is 78 miles from tip to tip, and one of the few – if not only – school systems in the nation that is not geographically contiguous. Traveling from one end to the other requires traveling through the Atlanta School System.
Schultz said the school board will discuss the issue of where board meetings will be held once the Sandy Springs headquarters is operational, but she supports the current process.
"Personally, I support a continued rotation of board meeting sites," said Schultz. "It is critical that we improve student achievement in our South Fulton schools, and I don't want an issue like the location of board meetings to set us back in gaining the support of that community in achieving this goal."
She added the board is committed to equitable funding and resources, and is seeing significant increases in student achievement under Avossa's leadership.