Atlanta school system delays work on long-term construction plan

“We need better data, and COVID has kind of changed the landscape on a lot of things,” board chairman Jason Esteves said.

Accurately predicting enrollment trends is an essential part of planning work. Officials rely on demographic forecasts and anticipated housing growth to predict which schools might add or lose students.

But the pandemic has thrown uncertainty into those projections. Larry Hoskins, chief operating officer of APS, told board members last month that he was “extremely concerned” about the change in demographic forecasts made before the pandemic.

“We are now wondering if, in fact, the region will see the same growth projected before COVID, after COVID,” he said.

In the year ending April 1, 2020, the city of Atlanta added 7,700 new residents, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Over the previous year, the city grew by 10,900 people. The agency’s population forecasts are among the sources officials will consider when developing the APS plan.

Paul Donsky, the commission’s senior director of communications and marketing, said “it’s too early to tell how the pandemic might impact demographic changes in the future.”

“Growth in the region is largely fueled by job growth, so any downturn in the economy could impact people,” he wrote in an email.

A preliminary report released in early 2020 on the district’s planning work so far predicted that each of the district’s nine geographic groups would add students by 2030. The largest percentage gain was predicted for schools that feed and include Maynard Jackson High School near Grant Park.

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APS, like other districts in the state, has seen its numbers drop this year. After several consecutive years of gains, enrollment at APS fell by about 1,400 students. Kindergarten is not mandatory in Georgia, and experts attribute a decrease in part to the difficulties young children have in learning online.

Parents and community members should closely monitor decisions guided by the facilities master plan. Building new schools, selling surplus properties, or changing attendance area boundaries are among the most controversial actions taken by a school district.

The district intends to hold more public meetings to gather feedback as the plan is developed, and this is one more reason why work has been pushed back. Social distancing guidelines make it difficult to gather in person during the pandemic.

APS enrollment by decade

1950-1951: 50,148

1960-1961: 97,866

1970-1971: 105,232

1980-1981: 71,897

1990-1991: 60,799

2000-2001: 58,230

2010-2011: 49,796

2020-2021: 51,012

Source: Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia Department of Education

Jeremy S. McLain