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School redistricting plan met with fight

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. After hearing he may be redistricted into a different school, B.B. Harris Elementary fourth-grader Arshan Grant took action. The 10-year-old started a petition and got almost 150 signatures from students who want to stay at B.B. Harris.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. After hearing he may be redistricted into a different school, B.B. Harris Elementary fourth-grader Arshan Grant took action. The 10-year-old started a petition and got almost 150 signatures from students who want to stay at B.B. Harris.

DULUTH -- When Arshan Grant found out the school system planned to redistrict his neighborhood from B.B. Harris Elementary School to Charles Brant Chesney Elementary School, he was upset.

So upset that when he went to school the next day, he started a petition asking school system officials to allow the students to remain at the school. By the end of the day, the fourth-grader had collected three pages of signatures.

The proposal to redistrict the neighborhoods within the Bromolow and Gravitt Place communities, moving about 120 students from Harris to Chesney, has been described as a "domino effect" by school system planners.

The redistricting, which is happening to ease overcrowding in the Peachtree Ridge cluster, also proposes to move a section north of Interstate 85 between Pleasant Hill Road and Duluth Highway from the Peachtree Ridge cluster to the Duluth cluster. The new attendance boundaries, as proposed, would move 270 students from Mason to Harris Elementary, 130 students from Hull to Duluth Middle and 180 students from Peachtree Ridge to Duluth High.

As a result of moving students over from Mason, the school system has proposed to move the kids from the Bromolow and Gravitt Place communities to Chesney.

When new school boundary lines are drawn, students who are enrolled at an affected high school have the option to remain at that school until graduation, although the school system will no longer provide transportation. Students in elementary and middle school, however, don't have that option.

While the entire proposal has drawn criticism from parents and community members, including Duluth's mayor, the residents of the Bromolow Woods, Bromolow Ridge, Bromolow Creek and Gravitt Place neighborhoods are particularly unhappy.

"Moving kids from one school to another disrupts them," said Phil Grant, Arshan's father. "It disrupts them socially, and it can disrupt them academically as well. ... This is a disruption that doesn't need to happen."

Instead of displacing students from Harris, Grant said the school system should move some of the Mason students to Harris and some to Chesney. Instead of affecting 430 kids, the move would affect 270.

"It will achieve the same purpose and more with 31 percent fewer students," Grant said. "It's exactly the same distribution (between the two schools)

"(Additionally), the division of the block of Mason students should benefit them by making the adjustment easier for them just as it would be easier for B.B. Harris and Chesney to assimilate a smaller influx of new students."

The Duluth communities are having an informational meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. today in the activity room at Bunten Road Park, 3180 Bunten Road, Duluth.

Byron Saltysiak said he's spoken to several parents in the community who have concerns about the proposal. Many plan to attend today's meeting.

"All the parents that have children in the elementary school are concerned," he said. "Right now, the plan just seems rushed. It seems ill thought out. It doesn't solve the problems for Peachtree Ridge. It doesn't solve the problems for the Duluth cluster."

Saltysiak and many other parents have expressed a desire for a more "equitable" plan. More than a dozen parents and community members addressed the school board Thursday evening. Several said they have no reservations about bringing more students into the Duluth cluster to relieve overcrowding in Peachtree Ridge, but they don't want to do so at the expense of the kids who currently attend school in the cluster.

Additionally, many have expressed concern about the timing of this action. Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris suggested that the school system wait to create new school boundary lines when it opens a new middle school in the Peachtree Ridge cluster. One is scheduled to open in 2013, but that project hinges on the voters' reauthorization of a special purpose local option sales tax.

"The timeline that they're talking about, I don't know how we can even really have a dialogue," Saltysiak added.

Mary Kay Murphy, the school board member who represents the area, has encouraged community members to submit boundary input forms, which are available at affected schools and on the school district's website. The forms will be collected through April 1.

School boundary committees are also collecting input on the proposal through April 11. The school system planners will use the input to amend the plan, and updated maps are scheduled to be released April 18.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the redistricting at 7 p.m. April 20 at the Instructional Support Center, 437 Old Peachtree Road N.W., Suwanee.

The board is scheduled to vote on the redistricting during its 7 p.m. business meeting April 21.