November 14, 2018

School Speakers Criticize West Broad Plan, Communication Policy

City Dope

Commissioner Melissa Link.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Melissa Link is not happy with Clarke County School Superintendent Demond Means’ plan for the West Broad School.

Means unveiled plans at a weekend retreat earlier this month to turn the vacant school into an early-learning center with a health clinic to serve students districtwide. In addition to renovating the historic school, the plan would involve constructing a new building where the Athens Land Trust community garden now stands and scuttle a Saturday farmers market.

“It is literally the only place in Athens where people from many different backgrounds, different ages, different races come together in one social space, and the walls of segregation fall apart,” Link said at the school board’s Nov. 8 meeting.

There are already numerous medical and child-care facilities within a mile radius—including an early learning center on the nearby H.T. Edwards campus—while such facilities are lacking on the Eastside and far Westside, Link said. She also asked Means to reach out to ACC about traffic data for the area. “That’s one of the most dangerous urban stretches in all of Athens-Clarke County,” she said.

Several speakers also criticized a proposed policy, pushed by Means, requiring permission from the full board for board members to meet with community groups. “On almost 20 boards I’ve ever served on, I’ve never had anyone ask me to declare my whereabouts or worry about what I was going to say when I went somewhere,” Kirrena Gallagher said.

The board removed the policy from its agenda and sent it back to committee, along with another policy that would have transferred the power to accept teachers’ mid-year resignations from the board to the superintendent.

The board approved hiring the University of Virginia for $350,000 to consult on improving Gaines Elementary School, which landed on the state turnaround list after three years of subpar College and Career Readiness Index scores. It also approved $97,000 for AVID training for teachers. Both expenses will be paid with Title I funding intended for schools in low-income neighborhoods. The federal government recently loosened regulations on how Title I money can be spent, Means said.

And the board approved a list of legislative priorities for the 2019 General Assembly session that starts in January. It includes ending the ban on undocumented immigrants attending UGA, more funding for school buses, teacher raises, boosting pre-K teachers’ salaries up to the K-12 level, eliminating private-school vouchers and more need-based financial aid for postsecondary education.