November 26, 2013NORTH FULTON, Ga. – A deep division on the Fulton Board of Education is emerging over the decision to continue rotating board meetings between locations in North and South Fulton once a new administrative center opens next year in Sandy Springs.
The issue appears more symbolic than substantive, since few people actually attend the board meetings in person, but reflects the ongoing issue over equity in the two ends of the school system.
Last month, the Fulton School System purchased land for new headquarters on Powers Ferry Road in Sandy Springs, and will close its current site in South Fulton within the next 12 months. The move will save the system millions in renovations and upkeep and place the headquarters at the center of its enrollment population, according to school officials. However, the decision was decried by South Fulton political and community leaders.
Some board members saw the move to new headquarters as the opportunity to begin holding its monthly meetings at the central location. However, it appears the majority of the seven-member board supports continuing to rotate meetings between the Sandy Springs site and a site to be determined in South Fulton.
The final vote is scheduled for the Dec. 3 school board meeting.
The issue of rotating sites did not sit well with Alpharetta board member Katie Reeves and Sandy Springs member Gail Dean, who were the only two votes against placing the issue on the Dec. 3 agenda. During a contentious meeting on Nov. 12 and again on Nov. 21, both urged their peers to allow the issue to be considered at least 30 days prior to a final decision.
Dean said the new headquarters is centrally located, and is the logical choice for board meetings.
"The reason we are moving the office to a more central location is because two-thirds of our population is north of the city of Atlanta," said Dean, whose district includes Sandy Springs and part of South Fulton. "We just spent quite a bit of taxpayer money to do that, [and] then to turn around and have half the meetings in the South is not doing what we [intended]."
Board President Linda Schultz supports the rotation schedule, saying the board should be accessible to all of its constituents.
"We did not, in my opinion, make those purchases to benefit the board meetings – our board meetings can be held anywhere," said Schultz. "[They should be] wherever we can reach out to the community. We are not charged with making it convenient for staff."
However, the audience at board meetings is primarily school staff, as opposed to community members.
"Records aren't kept on meeting attendance, but on average, the [public] crowd varies from a handful of people to about 20 people depending on interest in the agenda topics," said Susan Hale, district spokesperson.
Beginning in 2006, the school system began video streaming its meetings live over the Internet, and video and audio recordings of the meetings are posted online within 24 hours and replayed on the system's cable channel, FCSTV.
Reeves pointed out eight high schools in Fulton County are located north of the Chattahoochee River, compared to two in Sandy Springs and five in South Fulton. With the planned closing of Milton Center (formerly Milton High School) next year, there will be no administrative centers located north of the river, she said.
"Just because we call [the Sandy Springs site] 'north,' doesn't mean I consider it north, and certainly the thousands of people who live in North Fulton do not consider it a north location," said Reeves. "I'm trying to figure out if people who live north of the [Chattahoochee] river actually count."
Reeves said she would never push for a board meeting in the city of Milton because of its extreme north location. But she hopes the board will consider a more central location as opposed to a far southern site.
Schultz said no decisions have been made over location or timing, and it will be discussed over the next year.
"Several locations were discussed, including the future South Learning Center located on Flat Shoals Road. I would like to provide our staff some guidance regarding our future meeting locations as they plan for [new buildings]…however, the timing of the decision will be decided by the majority of the board."