With Decatur’s 9-percent jump in enrollment for the just-around-the-corner 2011-12 school year, the school system has hired about 75 new teachers and staff to handle the increased load.
But how many of those new students and families are actually city of Decatur residents?
“People cannot just show up and be placed in our schools,” said Dr. Phyllis Edwards, school superintendent. “We have a tuition application process that opens during the second half of the year. All applications are reviewed and if space is available, we do place tuition students. They pay approximately $6000 a year and this fluctuates because it is formula driven.
“The process for tuition opens in March and is kept open until the end of March. If we see that there are additional spaces, we will reopen the tuition process for an additional month.”
Edwards said in past years, the system has not allowed tuition students at either certain grades or schools because of not having enough space. “But this year, many elementary tuition were placed at the new K-3 , which is the smallest school.
“We do residency reviews and checks during the year in case there are some that do not want to pay tuition but think that they can send their child to school in Decatur.”
Every new elementary position had more than 300 candidates for each job, Edwards said.
The biggest area of growth has occurred around , a school originally projected to have 85 kindergarteners but will instead house more than 100.
Oakhurst’s overcrowding came even though the city built its first new public school in more than 30 years with the . And while the old 4/5 Academy’s location has become the city’s fourth elementary school – Glennwood – redrawn district lines made Oakhurst’s district smaller, a factor that contributed to the overcrowding.
Decatur school officials hired an additional teacher and paraprofessional to teach an additional Oakhurst kindergarten class.
"Everyone who wanted to originally get into Oakhurst has been able to get in,” said Julie Rhame, who represents District 2, including Oakhurst, on the Decatur city school board. “But we will be diligent in checking residency to make sure folks are legit.”
“We don’t know if our increased enrollment is due to troubles in surrounding public schools,” Edwards said. “We are going to pull a report which will tell us if students are coming from another public school.”
The city of Atlanta school system is struggling to retain its recognized accreditation, and DeKalb County’s system also has been under investigation.
“We also wonder if due to the economy, people are looking for another option rather than keeping their children in private school,” she added.