published Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Dalton Middle School overcrowding decision on hold

Lizbeth Arreguin, right, and others hold signs in front of Dalton City Hall to protest plans to turn Park Creek Elementary School into a sixth-grade academy in this file photo.
Lizbeth Arreguin, right, and others hold signs in front of Dalton City Hall to protest plans to turn Park Creek Elementary School into a sixth-grade academy in this file photo.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Jim Hawkins is the Dalton Public Schools Superintendent

DALTON, Ga. — School officials will wait until September to make a recommendation to the school board on the best way to address overcrowding at Dalton Middle School, Superintendent Jim Hawkins told board members.

“We could not do it in good conscience without knowing what will happen with enrollment numbers,” Hawkins said during a board meeting Monday evening. “We will get a good glimpse of enrollment on Wednesday, but it will take us about two weeks to enter all those numbers.”

Dalton and Whitfield County students return to school Wednesday. School officials think enrollment numbers, particularly in Dalton, may be down this year compared to last year because of Hispanic families moving out of the state.

The Georgia Legislature passed an immigration law this spring, with parts that went into effect July 1, that cracked down on illegal immigrants living and working in the state. Anecdotal evidence suggests Hispanics have moved out of the area, but Dalton officials say one of the best indicators of how many have left will be school enrollment numbers.

Earlier this summer, board members discussed changing Park Creek School into a sixth-grade academy as a way to deal with the overcrowding. After Park Creek students, parents and teachers vigorously protested that option, school administrators began looking at additional proposals that included converting City Park School into a prekindergarten through eighth-grade school and moving all sixth-graders from the middle school back into elementary schools.

Hawkins told board members Monday night that they would make a final recommendation based on enrollment numbers and the information provided by several groups studying the options.

Hawkins said he would also provide the school board with a more specific list of things for which a 1 percent education tax would be used after seeing what the cost would be to move students of the middle school. Dalton and Whitfield County boards have asked voters to approve the tax in the November election.

During the meeting, board member Rick Fromm voiced concern that voters were being given incorrect information on how the school system was spending its money.

“Education is being portrayed as a drain on the community, rather than a part of the whole community,” Fromm said. “Our challenge continues to be communication and how to let the community know about the information.”

Contact Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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