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Shrink Schools To Fit Enrollment, Atlanta Chief Urges

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Superintendent Benjamin O. Canada of Atlanta has urged that more than a sixth of the district's public schools be closed for the sake of efficiency.

The superintendent last month announced plans to close 18 of the district's 106 schools next fall. The district would reassign the schools' resources, teachers, and 6,300 students, he said.

Mr. Canada, who took office last August, said the district has needed to downsize for some time because enrollment has decreased dramatically in recent decades.

"We currently have space to accommodate 100,000-plus students, and we only have 59,000," Mr. Canada said last week.

"We want to insure success for all children," Mr. Canada added. "And success for all children means we should be spending human resources and fiscal resources in a way that promotes quality education, and not on overhead for facilities we don't need."

The school board has yet to vote on Mr. Canada's proposal, and it expects to have public hearings on the matter in the coming months.

Hitting Resistance

The superintendent's proposal already has met resistance from some parents who have successfully fought previous efforts to close schools in their neighborhoods.

Anita L. Brooks, the president of the 2,300-member Atlanta Federation of Teachers, said last week that several parents have called the union to complain that the district planned to subject their children to long bus rides to and from school and to close schools that are focal points in their communities.

She added, however, that the current school board and superintendent appear more resolute than their predecessors about the need to close schools.

Ms. Brooks praised the plan as educationally sound and said the union supports it as long as it does not lead to district personnel losing their jobs.

The union has asked that the district earmark the savings from the school closings for needed renovation work at the sites still in use.

'Success for All'

Under the superintendent's plan, the district would close 15 elementary schools and three high schools that are considered especially costly to renovate or equip for new technology.

In a letter to district parents, Mr. Canada said schools were chosen for closure based on their deficiencies in such factors as enrollment, ability to meet current needs, and accessibility to children with disabilities.

The superintendent's plan, which he calls "Success for All Children," also would cut travel time for specialists such as art and music teachers and elementary school counselors who work at several schools. Each likely would have fewer schools to serve and spend less time on the road once the 18 schools were closed.

The superintendent also has proposed using a lottery to determine where students would be allowed to transfer and instituting a hub-based school-bus system to transport students more efficiently.

"Change is very difficult for us to accept, but we will stay the course in terms of our recommendations," Mr. Canada said.

The district faced a potential raid on its budget last month as the Atlanta City Council looked to school money to pay for raises for city employees. Under the terms of a 1985 agreement, the city gives the district 30 percent of its revenues from a local sales tax.

Some city officials have sought to get out of the agreement since last year, however, and council members last month argued that ending it could generate the $18 million to $20 million needed to finance pay increases for city workers, some of whom have been working two years under a salary freeze.

Mr. Canada, who had vowed to fight such a budget change, last week said he was confident that it has been thwarted by the opposition of the mayor and several council members.

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