Sunday, February 21, 2016

School board agenda for February 23

Some of the items on the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting:

Transportation appeals. One major item of business will be addressing appeals of our decision to cut discretionary busing from many areas that were accustomed to receiving it. (See posts here and here.) These appeals fall into two (sometimes overlapping) categories. First, there are appeals from people arguing that they are more than two miles from their elementary school or more than three miles from their high school. If they’re right, state law entitles them to busing. Second, there are people asking to us to reconsider our decision to cut discretionary busing from their area, even though they may not be so far from their schools that the state requires us to provide a bus.

Secondary boundaries. The previous board decided on a “secondary feeder” plan that would take effect when Liberty High School opens in 2017. (More info here.) The plan looks like this (click to enlarge):

Five of the seven board seats changed hands in the September election, however, and some of the new board members (including me) have balked at some aspects of the secondary feeder plan. For example, the plan sends Alexander-, Kirkwood-, and Wickham-area kids to more distant junior high schools when closer options are available. (The plan does give Kirkwood families the option of choosing the closer junior high, however.) The busing that will be necessary to execute those secondary assignments is estimated to cost $240,000 annually. That figure doesn’t include the cost of activity buses that the board may decide are necessary to enable kids to participate in after-school activities at schools that are far from home.

The plan helps balance the percentage of kids at each secondary school who are receiving free or reduced-price lunch, special ed services, or English-language learning instruction—all groups that have shown significantly lower-than-average proficiency on tests of reading and math. It does so, though, by greatly increasing the distance to junior high for kids in some of our highest-poverty areas. I have a hard time seeing how kids from those areas will be better off attending much more distant junior high schools.

Re-routing those elementary schools to different junior highs, though, would then raise the question about high school destinations. If, for example, Alexander kids go to Southeast Junior High, should they then proceed to City High, as the other Southeast kids do? Or should we “split the feeder” and send them to West High? Concerns about distance, “balance,” capacity, and parental preference come into play in making that kind of decision.

I have enough concerns about the existing plan that I supported putting this topic on the agenda for further discussion. (See this post.) I do not feel even close to being in a position to reach a conclusion about a feeder plan on Tuesday night, however. My preference would be simply to acknowledge that we are no longer settled on the previous board’s plan, and then to continue to discuss the issue as we draw new elementary boundaries over the next two months. By the end of that process, we should settle on a feeder plan that would be informed by the new elementary boundaries.

We’ll also be hearing the preliminary certified budget and a report from our equity director, among other things. The full agenda is here. Feel free to leave a comment below about anything that catches your attention.


Emily Cornish said...

Thank you for revisiting the feeder plan. The current feeder system not only sends Wickham kids to the further junior high it also sends them to West which is twice the distance that Liberty will be.

Emily Cornish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty and transparency-it is much appreciated by many of us in the community. My issues with the secondary boundaries, as written, are many; What is our specific and measurable goal for each change? Where is the programming to go along with bussing? What is the real, underlying problem and does bussing solve it? Was the decision "child-centered" or just numbers on paper?
I would support another look at the boundaries, as I don't feel that any of these questions have been answered satisfactorily. Show me a plan that is more than just moving kids around, hoping for the best, and I'll support it 100%.

Another anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this and keeping the community informed. I hope no changes to boundaries are made tonight. The caucusing of neighborhoods about preferred schools should be finished first. All of this is confusing for many people.

Anonymous said...

What is on the agenda for the 03/01/16 Special Board Meeting?

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for asking. I just put up a post about it.