Sunday, December 6, 2015

Some thoughts on the superintendent’s visit to Hoover

Our superintendent visited Hoover School last week to talk with parents about the planned closure of the school. There wasn’t much new in terms of rationales for the closure, but he did make three interesting statements:

1. Hoover parents have repeatedly been told that the loss of Hoover won’t be so bad because there are other nearby schools that Hoover students will end up attending. Longfellow is frequently given as the example; it would be the closest alternative for a big chunk of Hoover’s attendance area. Some of Longfellow’s attendance area is an “island” out in the easternmost part of town, whose students would almost certainly be redistricted into the new East elementary school. The idea has always been that the departure of those students from Longfellow would create room for kids who are displaced from Hoover.

But the superintendent recently informed me that there are currently 79 Longfellow students who live in that “island” out by the new school. Longfellow’s enrollment, however, is currently 80 students over its capacity. So I asked the superintendent how there would be any room at Longfellow for Hoover students when the school closes. He said that it is unlikely that there would be many seats at Longfellow for Hoover kids.

That fact has big implications for current Hoover families, as well as for families at Lucas and Lemme (the two other likely destinations for Hoover kids). It means many Hoover kids would end up at schools much farther from their homes. The redistricting of Lucas and Lemme will also be that much more difficult if those two schools have to accommodate almost the entire population of Hoover.

2. One parent asked the superintendent what would be the worst consequences of leaving Hoover open, and how big a role City High’s needs play. The superintendent said that City High’s needs would not even be in his top three reasons for the closure. Instead, he emphasized the operational cost efficiencies that could be achieved by having one less elementary school to run.

I found that response to be significant for two reasons. First, it seemed to be an admission that the “City High needs the land” argument is not particularly persuasive, especially since the district is still unable (unwilling?) to tell the public what will actually appear on Hoover’s land.

Second, the operational cost efficiency argument is the argument that is most transferable to other schools, several of which (Lincoln, Hills, Horace Mann, Longfellow, and Shimek) are significantly smaller than Hoover. In my view, the argument that This One Additional School Is Breaking the Bank is simply inconsistent with saying But Schools That Are Smaller Than Hoover Have Nothing To Worry About. (It is also arguably inconsistent with the district’s simultaneous exploration of starting a magnet school, which would almost certainly be more costly than the average school to operate.)

3. One parent asked whether enrollment will still be over capacity when all the projects in the facilities plan are completed. One major goal of the facilities plan, after all, was to alleviate overcrowding. The superintendent said that under current projections we would be right at capacity, but that we’re a growing district and thus will probably have to start talking about building new schools as soon as the facilities plan is done. I don’t disagree with this statement, but it certainly drives home the point that destroying over 300 seats of elementary capacity has a serious price tag. What’s incredible is that over two years after the board voted to close the school, the district has still not put a number on the cost of replacing 300+ seats of elementary capacity and how much it will increase the district’s future bond request.

The Hoover closure is a big topic, and it’s impossible to discuss all aspects of it in one post. Right now, it’s clear that there are not four (out of seven) votes on the school board to reconsider the closure. The next logical moment to consider the issue will be when the board starts drawing the attendance zones that will apply to the east side when the new East elementary school opens. The board is planning to draw those zones this coming Spring (even though they will not go into effect until 2019). I anticipate that it will be harder than expected to draw workable attendance zones without using Hoover’s capacity, so that will be a good moment to stop and rethink whether the closure is worth the associated costs.

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