But Brumby teachers say their school is in desperate need of a rebuild and the panic over redistricting is based on unfounded misconceptions.
The teachers stood on one side of Terrell Mill Road on Saturday morning holding signs that read “Will you be my neighbor?” as concerned homeowners stood on the opposite side of the street surveying the 35-acre site earmarked for Brumby.
The plot was placed under contract by the Cobb Board of Education for $9.4 million in early February.
Residents say the site is on an already congested road that is a main thoroughfare for commuters making their way to Atlanta.
They’re also concerned the site is much larger than what is needed to build a single elementary school and may be intended to house both Brumby and East Cobb Middle School, which is in line for a rebuild under a special purpose local option sales tax approved last March.
About $159 million from that SPLOST is set aside for construction projects, including two new elementary schools, a new East Cobb Middle and new buildings for Wheeler and Osborne high schools.
School board member Scott Sweeney, who represents both Sope Creek Elementary and Brumby, said no decisions about where to rebuild East Cobb Middle have been made, but it could end up at the Brumby site.
“That’s a possibility and we haven’t had a formal recommendation from the district’s administration,” Sweeney said.
The Cobb Board of Education asked the county’s traffic department to complete a traffic study for the Terrell Mill Road property looking into the feasibility of having both an elementary school and a middle school on the site, but that study has not been released yet.
School board member: Redistricting not needed
The proposed new location for Brumby sits at the very northern end of its district. It is close to the line where the portion of the county zoned for Sope Creek Elementary begins.
Residents are afraid that might cause the need for redistricting and could send some students zoned for Sope Creek to Brumby.
But that’s a claim Sweeney denies. He maintains that while the new school would be close to the line for a neighboring district, it is still within its attendance zone.
Schools do not have to be centrally located in their district, he said, pointing to Powers Ferry, Sedelia Park and Eastvalley elementary schools, which have all been “probably within a half mile of each other” since the 1950s or 1960s.
“The location of a school within its attendance zone, it has nothing to do with the drawing zone,” Sweeney said.
No recommendations have been made, Sweeney said, regarding redistricting.
Brumby and Sope Creek are about 2 miles apart right now, and if Brumby is rebuilt as proposed on Terrell Mill Road, the two schools would be just under a mile from one another.
Jennifer Ferrara moved to Cobb about a year ago from Charlotte, N.C. She chose to build a home in Sope Creek’s zone so her 5-year-old daughter could attend the school.
“Unfortunately, (Brumby’s) test scores are quite a bit lower, and a lot of the population turns over quite quickly,” Ferrara said.
Although Brumby teaches more minority and low-income students than Sope Creek, Ferrara said her concerns about redistricting aren’t about demographics. She says all students deserve a quality education, and she agrees Brumby needs a new school.
Still, she was hesitant to send her children to Brumby.
“I want her to go to a school with very high academic standards, and I’m not suggesting Brumby doesn’t have those, but if you look at them side by side one of them is rated 5 out of 10 and one of them is rated 10 out of 10,” Ferrara said.
Teachers say school doesn’t deserve reputation
Brumby teachers and staff who turned out Saturday morning to hold their signs reading “Will you be my neighbor?” and “Thank you CCSD,” said their school gets a bad rap.
The two schools have opposite reputations. Brumby is known for its high transiency rate and many students who begin the year in a classroom at the school move before the end of the year.
Brumby has a rating of 75.3 by the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index, which was created to be a comprehensive rating of state schools.
Sope Creek was given a 98.3 rating.
Megan McNaughton, a Brumby math teacher, says those scores don’t accurately portray what goes on in her classroom.
“They reflect a kid’s performance over a week of testing,” McNaughton said.
Teachers acknowledge the school’s high transiency rate, but said the test scores of students who have attended the school from kindergarten through fifth grade are higher than the school’s average and tell a story of success.
It’s not Brumby versus Sope Creek, said Matt Lake, a second-grade teacher at Brumby.
“Sope Creek is a wonderful school and so is Brumby,” Lake said.
The two schools already have a great relationship, he said, and moving closer to each other may allow partnerships for activities such as field days.
Kelly Manthe is the school’s secretary. She has lived in a Terrell Mill Road neighborhood for more than 20 years and sent her three children to Brumby.
If neighbors are concerned about student performance or academic standards at Brumby, she said, they should get involved.
“If they wanted to build a different school, build it. Partner with us,” Manthe said. “Be the change you want to see.”
Supporter: Alternative is development
Michelle Ansley lives off Terrell Mill Road. Though her children attend private schools, she says the school board’s decisions impact her family.
A new elementary school on the site near her home would cause enough traffic problems, she said, but combining that with a new middle school would make the roads unbearable.
Brumby is proposed to take up about 15 acres of the 35-acre property. Though the school system is reviewing the traffic study it requested into the feasibility of putting two schools on the property, residents still don’t have definite answers about the board’s plans for the remaining 20 acres it has under contract.
“When asked about their plans for the 20 acres, they are very evasive,” Ansley said. “They say we can’t discuss it because it’s during the due diligence period (of the contract).”
Sheri George, vice president of the Terrell Mill Community Association, says the possible alternative for the site that was once farmland would have a bigger impact on the neighborhood.
“Of course, we all want it to stay the way that it is,” George said.
If the property were purchased by a developer and became a residential subdivision, George said, more traffic problems would be eminent.
“To me, listening to all the traffic concerns, I’m thinking do people not realize that this could be bought by a developer?” George said.
Surrounding neighborhoods are zoned R-15 under county designations. That zoning allows 2.5 homes to be built on every acre of land, which is 87.5 homes on 35 acres.
Each of those homes could have up to four cars adding to congestion on Terrell Mill Road, George said.
Residents want answers
Much of the opposition to the proposed school site has to do with the school board’s secrecy. The board met in closed session several times before announcing which elementary schools it would rebuild.
Government bodies are allowed to talk behind closed doors about the purchase of real estate under the Georgia Open Meetings Act. Though the exemption exists for land acquisition talks, boards are not prohibited from discussing these issues in public.
Since the board voted on the $9.4 million purchase in early February, no more public discussion has taken place.
Bennett Alsher has lived in the Old Paper Mill community since 1990 and sent his twin daughters, now 29, to Sope Creek as children.
He no longer has children in school but is upset about what he says is a lack of transparency.
“This is being sprung on us as neighbors and taxpayers,” Alsher said.
Neighbors understand the need to rebuild Brumby, Alsher said, and sympathize with the overcrowding issues the school faces.
Still, the mystery surrounding the school board’s plans has him unnerved.
“Again, we are not against the Brumby kids having a good school,” Alsher said. “Look, people move to where there are good schools.”