DALTON, Ga. — The city's sixth-graders will not be going into trailers.
During a work session Thursday afternoon, the Dalton Board of Education unanimously decided to stop exploring a temporary fix to its overcrowded high school and middle school. System administrators had been mulling an idea that would have shuffled all of the sixth-graders into trailers outside of Park Creek School on South Frederick Street.
The move would have taken effect next fall. In turn, the ninth-graders would have moved to Dalton Middle School, leaving the high school with three grades, as well.
The plan never moved from the preliminary planning stage, though. Interim Superintendent Don Amonett told the board the shuffle would cost about $4.2 million over the course of two years. The biggest expense would be for the purchase of the additional trailers.
But the money wasn't the only problem.
On Sept. 7, the board members received a letter from the collective sixth-grade teachers. They said they took a vote among the teachers who are planning to return next year, with 27 opposing the plan and one teacher supporting it.
Among the problems? The school hours would be pushed back. Right now, the middle school runs from 7:45 a.m.-2:50 p.m. But Park Creek, an elementary school, runs from 8:15 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
With the trailers right next to the school, the start and finish times are too close together. That would create traffic jams, Amonett said. And as a result, school administrators suggested changing the time back for the sixth-graders: 9:15 a.m-4:15 p.m.
That, the teachers said in their letter, would create several problems. For starters, the sixth-graders would have trouble participating in middle school extracurricular activities since they got out later. The same goes for some of the teachers, who happen to coach sports.
What's more, the teachers wrote, days with bad weather will be tough for the children, who might have to sit in classrooms in soaking clothes. Trailers might seem intimidating for a group that's already moving up from elementary school, they warned.
"They are nervous and scared," wrote the author of the letter, whose name was not signed. "We feel that not having a 'real' place to reside would only add to their anxiety."
On Thursday, the board members agreed.
"For me, this is not practical," Pablo Perez said. "To me, this is irresponsible, unethical. And for me, it's an absurd type of presentation in the sense that, in the end, we're going to do more harm than benefit."
Said Tulley Johnson: "There's no perfect solution. I wish there was. But we still got to find options. ... The cost is too great. I'm not looking at it money- wise as much as interruption in sixth grade."
School officials hope voters approve a longer-term solution on Nov. 7, when they are asked on a referendum whether they would approve issuing a bond to build a school dedicated strictly to sixth and seventh grades. The bond would cost about $50 million, plus interest.
In turn, the ninth-graders would bump down to the middle school with eighth grade. And the high school would host sophomores, juniors and seniors.
From 2010-17, the population of Dalton Public Schools increased by 1,312 students — a 19 percent bump. In turn, the halls have become much more crowded. Last spring, Dalton Middle School was at 98.8 percent occupancy and Dalton High School was at 100.3 percent.
Millage rate approved
The board voted 4-1 Thursday to keep the property tax rate at 8.2 mills. This comes as property values in the city increased 3.5 percent, generating an extra $1.2 million for the school system.
Steve Laird was the lone board member against the tax rate, arguing that they should roll back the burden on property owners.
"We're asking a significant investment," he said. "I think our taxpayers need to have a rollback."
Board Chairman Rick Fromm argued that the money was necessary, pointing out that the system still is taking in less property tax money now than it was before the recession. Meanwhile, more students are in the classrooms than 10 years ago.
"It is fiscally responsible to continue the millage rate rather than roll it back," he said.
Overall, the schools' budget increased about $3.5 million, or about 5.5 percent. The funding highlights include $1.6 million for employee raises, $960,000 in added contributions to the retirement fund, $420,000 in added teaching positions and $300,000 for equipment and supplies that had been cut during the recession.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.