As the board embarks on redrawing elementary boundaries in preparation for opening two new elementary schools in 2019, we’re getting a lot of input from people about which zones they’d like to be in. We’ll hear more of that input at our special board meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday, March 1).
We’re hearing a good deal of discussion about how much (if at all) the board should try to create “balanced” school populations, socioeconomically and in terms of English-language learner and special-education status. That’s certainly a topic worth discussing. But we don’t hear nearly as much acknowledgement of another factor that’s likely to affect redistricting: building capacity. I wonder if people are aware of the role capacity is likely to play.
All other things being equal, I think it’s safe to say that most people would like to be assigned to their closest school. One problem that can arise, though, is that the number of kids who are closest to School X might be larger than the capacity of School X. In that case, the proximity concern runs up against a concern about overcrowding. At some point, capacity constraints could force is to send some kids to a school that isn’t the closest one. We couldn’t send a thousand kids to a school that can only hold six hundred.
I suspect we will run up against capacity concerns like that in some instances. For example, under the capacity calculations that the district has based its facilities master plan on, Penn Elementary can hold 587 kids. I wouldn’t be surprised if significantly more than 587 kids can say that they live closer to Penn than to any other school. If so, how could we put them all at Penn?
Garner is very close to Penn, but unless we change its boundaries, Garner is projected to be almost 150 students overcrowded even after it gets its addition in 2019. The closest school for the wide majority of its students is probably Garner itself or Penn, which is also projected to be over capacity in 2019. It may well be impossible to alleviate that overcrowding without sending some kids to a school that is not their closest school.
The flip-side may also be true. How many kids will be able to say that the new Grant Elementary is their closest school? That number could be well below the six hundred kids that the school will be able to hold. So if we want to make as much use as we reasonably can of Grant’s capacity—to help alleviate the overcrowding at the other North Corridor schools— we may have to send some kids to Grant who live closer to other schools.
(Those are just possible examples; similar concerns may arise in other parts of the district as well.)
In the longer run, it may make sense to address some of those concerns by building new capacity—either new schools or additions to existing schools—where the population is growing. But our current facilities plan already exceeds the money available to us, and therefore depends on voter approval of a large bond. So building additional capacity has its own challenges.
I’m not saying that I have great answers to any of these questions—just that if we end up not being able to send some neighborhoods to the closest schools, there’s a good chance it will be because of capacity issues.