By Rebecca Wells & Jack White
At the VHCA meeting on May 9th, Atlanta Public School District 3 Board member Matt Westmoreland and several parents asked the VHCA Board to support the referendum. The Board unanimously did that. We hope you will, too; here’s why.
The upcoming E-SPLOST referendum on May 24th will have a significant impact on our neighborhood. Voters are being asked to keep in place the existing (not new) sales tax funding for Atlanta Public Schools.
APS will use those monies to renovate the former Howard High School building in the Old Fourth Ward – Martin Luther King, Jr. went to elementary school there – and use it as the site of a new middle school for the Grady Cluster. Relieving the overcrowding at Inman will be the first step in a sequential series of improvements for the cluster that were outlined by the Superintendent and approved by the school board over the last year. They include major improvements to Morningside Elementary, expanding Grady High School, building new athletic fields, re-casting Inman as an elementary school, and removing the trailers from the Inman fields.
It is a strategic and long-term solution that benefits both us and all our surrounding neighborhoods. An historic and modernized structure is preserved and reused. Morningside Elementary – expanded repeatedly over the last thirty years – needs a huge modernization of its HVAC systems. With the middle school gone, the Inman building can house Morningside students while that work is done. Once Morningside is back home, a reborn Inman Elementary (that’s how it started in 1924) can offer additional capacity at lower grade levels. It’s likely to be needed; Spark has been expanded twice in its brief life and Mary Lin has just been completely renovated. Adding additional classroom space to any of those schools is highly problematic.
Previous school boards have offered up a series of obviously flawed short-term suggestions for relieving middle school overcrowding in the Grady Cluster. All of them underestimated the steady growth of the northeast neighborhoods and ignored the City of Atlanta’s Planning Department’s support for increased residential density. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and the current school board (including our own representative, Matt Westmoreland) responded to a huge amount of community feedback with a plan that anticipates growth at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Their proposal was unveiled to a standing room only crowd at Inman last September; it was received with enthusiasm.
A positive vote on this referendum will end the specter of an even larger permanent middle school super-structure at Inman and all the associated problems that would go with it. The school board’s proposed end product – a smaller elementary school at Inman – will result in reduced traffic and parking on Virginia Avenue and Park Drive, roads that are already struggling to handle the existing bus load.
And – lest we forget – the E-SPLOST also offers a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the trailer/classrooms that now consume the fields across from John Howell Park. Passing the E-SPLOST greatly increases the likelihood of returning the field sites to their previous usages – with existing trees intact.
We are well aware of the existing legacy of cynicism about the Atlanta Public School system. Much of that reputation was earned by very poor planning and a head-in-the-sand approach to important topics. History’s verdict on our current board is yet to be written, but one point is already clear – this school board is planning for future capacity issues. Their pending proposal – the one whose funding awaits a ‘yes’ vote – is the first we’ve seen that aspires to anticipate and address the needs of the next twenty years. That alone is noteworthy and meritorious, and we salute the Superintendent and board for that.
The vote on May 24th represents a bit of a crossroads for public education in Atlanta. A determined coalition of APS administrators, teachers, and parents are doing extraordinarily well for our students under today’s very difficult and challenging physical circumstances. They all deserve better, and this community deserves better. We urge you to support the funding that will allow our students and their immediate successors to go to school in the facilities that they deserve.
Rebecca Wells is a VaHi parent with two students enrolled in APS and a third who soon will be. Jack White is the President of the VHCA Board and the parent of two APS graduates.