Earlier this month, Banks proposed merging Powers Ferry Elementary with Eastvalley Elementary, a move that shocked parents and administrators at both schools.
The parents at Eastvalley, just off of Lower
Roswell Road and east of the 120 Loop, asked Banks to retract his proposal because they did not want their school to be included on a list of schools being considered for a rebuild.
“Does the school community have a say in whether or not we want to be considered for a rebuild? It sounds like not at all,” one parent said.
Banks stood among the rows of parents and community members, who fought for use of the microphone to ask questions as Banks explained the reasoning behind his idea, but he refused to back down from it.
“One of the major goals of SPLOST IV was to eliminate all portable classrooms,” in the district, he said.
Eastvalley Elementary has nine portable classrooms and Powers Ferry has six, according to the district.
He explained the district no longer builds schools that will hold fewer than 1,000 students, and with Eastvalley’s roughly 700 students and Powers Ferry’s 500, the combined students would meet the minimum requirements to fill a new building.
“We can’t afford to build neighborhood schools anymore,” Banks said.
Parents said they did not want their students lost among throngs of other children in their elementary school, that they liked their small classroom sizes and close-knit school community.
“As a parent, the main concern is your child. My child recognizes everybody here. Her principal knows everybody’s names. My kindergartener cannot deal with going to school with 1,000 people,” one parent stood and said.
When she sat down, the cafeteria erupted in applause.
Banks brushed off these comments, only repeating that “I wish I could tell you more, but as of now, it is all speculation.”
As Banks spoke, frustrated parents yelled from the crowd for him to speak into his microphone, as he was barely audible in the back of the packed room.
“You are asking us to get behind your plan, but you are not giving us any details,” one parent said.
Westby Slade, a parent at Eastvalley, whispered to his wife, Patti Slade, “So basically this is a useless meeting.”
Banks was adamant he could not give any details about his plans, but that he proposed a consolidation, not a merger, although the difference in the definition was never clearly explained.
“There’s a lot I wish I could tell you that it is going on behind the scenes, but I can’t. But let me assure you I will always be looking out for the best interests of my schools,” he said.
When pressed to give details on where the land the new building would be built on, Banks was unable to give any, although he assured parents, “If things work out like I hope they will turn out, there will be land.”
Parents passed quizzical looks around their lunch tables after Banks’ answers to their questions, many burying their heads in their hands.
“We’re confused, we’re not understanding you right now,” they said.
Banks replied, “I can’t communicate at this point.”
One parent asked the parents for a show of hands of who supported Banks’ proposal.
Not one hand was raised.
Parents were frustrated Banks was not receptive to their concerns, they said.
They planned to meet at the board meeting Thursday night to let the other board members know of their disapproval of Banks’ idea.
“We love this school and community. When I went into the room tonight, I knew most of the parents who were in there, I don’t feel we would get that in a new school,” said Eastvalley PTA Co-President Sarah Kirwan, who has two children at the school.
Banks left the meeting, promising, “There’s a lot of momentum, a lot of shifting, but nothing is secure yet.”
Parents huddled afterwards in the parking lot after the meeting, trying to make sense of what Banks had said.
“Honestly, he’s giving us absolutely no details. We don’t know what we are for or against here, we are all just confused,” said Carol Murray, parent of a kindergartener at Eastvalley.