For area residents and parents at Medlock Elementary, the battle to avoid the chopping block was already won. At least that’s what they assumed last year when a committee of community members failed to reach the consensus that would have closed the school. The community rallied then–waving signs, bringing children to meetings, creating slogans, doing what it could to apply pressure–and prevailed. However, the threat of closure has re-emerged.
A classic 1950s era building nestled in a quiet neighborhood of post-war bungalows, Medlock is again the target of a school system riddled with debt and desperately in need of state funds. On Jan. 4, the school board announced that up to 14 schools could close to help trim a surplus 11,000 seats.
Three days later, Medlock’s supporters were in familiar surroundings of the school’s cafeteria to plan another defense strategy. But PTA co-president Tommy Houseworth warned of a mightier struggle ahead. “They won’t respond to emotional feelings, we have to look for an alternative solution,” he said. “This all happened very quickly.”
That alternative solution, he argued, would require a lot of number crunching: Medlock’s survival now hinged on making financial sense.
According to figures presented at the meeting, the school is at 80 percent occupancy. The consulting firm hired by the county to draw up a list of recommendations, MGT America, has taken a number of factors into account, such as square footage, and decided that students can be sent to other area schools–McLendon, Laurel Ridge and Avondale, in Medlock’s case.
Scrutinizing the consulting firm’s data will be key to making a viable case against closure, said Houseworth. Anecdotally, there appears to be grounds for a credible challenge. One parent at the meeting, for example, described how one of her two children couldn’t attend Medlock due to overcrowding. There’s also a waiting list.
“How can we have a waiting list if we’re under capacity?” asked one attendee. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The impact on property values in the Medlock area is another consideration. More than a dozen concerned homeowners with no ties to the school were at the meeting. “This will affect their [the school board’s] revenue,” one long-term resident pointed out.
With, the board to hear final recommendations Feb. 7, building a defense purely based on economics may be wishful thinking. The largest applause of the night was reserved for one woman who said Medlock’s greatest asset was its ethnic mix and that its students would be sent to schools dominated by one race if Medlock closed.
Collaboration with other PTAs is another likely strategy, and one supported by Abdul Akhbar, the regional representative for eight local PTAs. “We have to work with other schools and come up with a plan,” he said. “The reality is that we have to close schools, that’s the bottom line.”
Akhbar did note, however, that schools would be pitted against one another to avoid closure.
Two days after the first meeting, a Medlock PTA e-mail was sent out throughout the community detailing the next steps: “The only way we can create a feasible plan is to enlist many, many volunteers to offer their time and talents. This, quite simply, is not a job a couple of PTA officers can run with….What we need is a committee of dedicated parents who are willing to work together over the next two to three weeks to focus on the action items involved in giving us a viable presentation on behalf of Medlock to share with the school board.”