Cary McCallum, who wanted to send his two daughters to Pope High in northeast Cobb rather than Wheeler High in east Cobb where his home is zoned, said he feels like he was left out of the loop.
“I have hired (an attorney) and right now we are deciding what our next move will be, but I will not rest until I solve this issue,” he said.
McCallum, a 1982 Wheeler graduate, said he was trying to place his daughters, freshman Kelly and junior Erin, at Pope because they heard horror stories from neighbors about Wheeler.
He registered Kelly, 14, at Wheeler but Erin, 16, refused to go to school there, so he enrolled her at Mills Springs Academy in Alpharetta.
McCallum said he found a policy on the Cobb Schools’ website earlier in the year that stated the procedures, forms and dates needed for a parent to access school choice.
“It stated that that information would be posted by July 1 of each year, so I took that as a literal interpretation and put that July 1 in my iPhone,” he said.
McCallum checked the district website July 1 and learned that the application deadline had already passed. Applications for the 2012-13 school year were to be submitted to the district between June 7 and June 21.
“I was kind of shocked because I think that if the information is posted by July 1, the act to apply must be after July,” he said.
He still tried to turn an application on July 3 but was turned away. He also tried reaching out to the district’s director of student support, Debby Jones, and Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa to get answers to his deadline issues.
“If you say you’re going to post something by a date, you have all the way to that date to receive that,” he said. “The district’s interpretation of by July 1 cannot be absolute.”
McCallum also argued that the district’s notification of the application needs to be more defined.
“The district told me that their notification was by Twitter, Facebook and in the parent information guide on the district’s website,” said the 47-year-old father of two. “Twitter is not a form of notification. It’s more for the younger generation. I don’t even have a Twitter account.”
Jones said, “The only thing that the law says is that notification can be sent by letter, electronic means or by any other reasonable means. We put ours in our website and also on Facebook and Twitter.”
Jones said they received 998 applications for the 2012-13 school year and placed 669 students.
The openings are determined by each school based on permanent classroom space and teachers. Parents have been able to take advantage of school choice since 2009. It applies to all grades and is free.
“We have a computer-generated lottery that is absolutely, 100 percent random,” she said.
Parents can mail, email, fax or hand-deliver applications.
If a student is accepted, the district calls the parent, and if they are not accepted, they receive an automated phone call and an email. For this school year, Jones said they started calling families June 22.
The schools participating in this year’s school choice option were posted online at the end of May. All of the high schools, 14 of the 25 middle schools, and 43 of the 67 elementary schools had openings.
The school choice topic came up at the school board’s August work session when Vice Chair David Morgan asked that the group consider implementing a few changes in regards to how Cobb implements House Bill 251.
Morgan asked that they let parents and guardians fill out the student choice applications online, for siblings to attend the same school they do, students be given the opportunity to stay within a feeder pattern once approved for school choice, space be defined by existing trailer space as well, for the central office to conduct a public lottery for students accepted into the program and for the district to post the number of spaces available at each school on their website before and after the selections.
The public lottery provision sparked the most feedback from board members, specifically Kathleen Angelucci and Alison Bartlett, who said they wouldn’t support it.
“The lottery would be very damaging,” Bartlett said. “It’s very hard on people to do that. To have an open lottery with a 1,000 children involved, I can’t support something like that.”
Morgan said he wants to conduct a lottery system because a majority of the calls he receives from constituents about school choice is from parents whose children didn’t get accepted.
“I’m mindful of the stress and disappointment if your number is not chosen, but I think in the spirit of full transparency it shows that there is nothing that we did not do on our end as a district to make sure everybody saw the process,” he said.
Hinojosa agreed with Angelucci and Bartlett, saying that he was concerned with the “logistics” of having a public lottery but that he would consider the other requests by Morgan, specifically defining space by including trailers and posting the number of spaces available at each school online.
He also pointed out that Cobb is waiting too late to accept applications and that they should start the process earlier.
“It might help us expedite things if we do it earlier,” he said.
Board Chair Scott Sweeney asked the district’s policy director Darryl York to come up with a revised policy regarding school choice and possibly bring it back before the board at their Sept. 12 work session.