Sunday, March 27, 2016

Update on redistricting discussion

Very busy work week, so very little posting. But I did want to post an update on the board’s redistricting discussions. We had a work session on Tuesday where some of the board members (including me) expressed some reservations about whether it makes sense to try to settle the 2019 elementary boundaries by this May, which has been the board’s stated goal. Here are some of the concerns:

  • We’re drawing districts for schools three and a half years before those schools are scheduled to open.

  • We’re using enrollment projections that were done almost five years before those schools are scheduled to open.

  • The 2017 school board election will occur two years before the new districts will take effect. That means that any redistricting decision we make will be subject to change by the next board, which could have as many as three new members.

  • We’re drawing a district for a school (Grant Elementary) that we don’t even know if we’ll have the funding to build. The funding for Grant is part of a planned $100+ million bond proposal that will go to the voters in 2017. If the bond doesn’t pass (and if the state doesn’t bail us out by extending our SAVE funding in the meantime), any redistricting we do will have to be redone after the 2017 election. This is an issue beyond just Grant, as our redistricting is also taking into consideration the planned bond-funded additions at other schools such as Garner and Lemme.

  • Proceeding on schedule almost certainly means using traditional attendance zones. Yet there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of developing a plan to reduce the concentration in any one school of students with high levels of need. (For this purpose, the district uses, as a proxy for high need, the number of students who are receiving free or reduced-price lunch, who are English-language learners, or who are receiving special ed services.) To significantly reduce those concentrations using traditional attendance zones would require very substantial changes in boundaries and possibly additional busing expenses.

    I have been trying to read up on some of the social science literature on efforts to diversify schools by socioeconomic class. I hope to post in more detail about that literature at some point. One aspect of that literature is that it focuses largely on incentive-based ideas (such as magnet schools) or other systems that give parents some degree of choice in the selection of schools—as opposed to mandatory assignment to schools through traditional attendance zones. (“[T]oday’s integration relies on public school choice, magnet schools, and incentives, rather than compulsion,” writes Richard Kahlenberg.)

    I don’t think we can consider a system like that if we have to act in the next eight weeks; there is just not enough time to develop and evaluate one. (Yes, the district did a magnet school study, but it would still be a tall order to turn that into a concrete plan that could win board approval in the next eight weeks.) So by settling the 2019 boundaries now, we might be short-circuiting the discussion of choice-based arrangements, or we might be moving forward with an approach that the next board will reject. Holding off on the decision, on the other hand, would give advocates more time to develop those ideas, to build support for them in the community, and to advocate for particular board candidates.

Would there be drawbacks to waiting? Yes. For one thing, we just solicited community input and received feedback from people in sixty neighborhoods. That feedback wouldn’t suddenly become invalid if we waited, but we certainly raised an expectation that we’d move forward. And I’m sure some people would prefer to have closure sooner rather than later (though, again, anything we do would be subject to change by the next board).

There is also the issue of the effect on secondary school assignments. Our current secondary feeder plan—which has to go into effect by 2017, when we’re opening a new high school—doesn’t actually draw secondary boundaries; it just assigns certain elementary school areas to particular secondary schools. Under that kind of feeder plan, it makes sense to settle the elementary boundaries before the new high school opens. (See this long, boring post.)

I have my doubts about some aspects of the feeder plan, but I’ve been arguing that we should revisit it only after we’ve settled elementary boundaries. If we were to delay the elementary redistricting, though, we would have to go ahead and settle who’s going to go to which secondary schools in 2017. And we might have to do it by actually drawing secondary boundaries.

For example, under our current feeder plan, the land right across the street from Liberty High is in the Wickham Elementary zone—and thus would attend West High. The assumption has always been that that land will become part of the Grant Elementary zone, and thus end up (sensibly) at Liberty. If we postpone drawing the elementary boundaries, it would still make sense to determine that a portion of the Wickham zone should attend Liberty when it opens. We could go ahead and decide that now. If that line becomes the southern boundary of the Grant zone in 2019, fine; or, if necessary, the board can adjust it when it eventually draws the Grant zone.

Regardless of what we do with 2019 attendance zones, it makes sense to look for shorter-term ways to address some of the challenges faced by schools that have a lot of kids with high levels of need. The district has begun to implement a weighted resource allocation plan that is a step in that direction. In particular, I’d like to see if we could reduce class sizes at high-need schools (which means, yes, at the expense of class sizes elsewhere). If that has the added effect of pulling kids from other areas into those schools through voluntary transfers, that would be good to know. I hope I can discuss that more in a future post.

Please note: All of this is just thinking out loud. It takes time to think through all the implications of pursuing one course rather than another in such a complex enterprise (which is my only excuse for not anticipating some of these issues sooner). I’m still thinking them through, and I suspect other board members are, too. Maybe the board will decide that going forward now makes sense. Maybe some other Eureka moment is just around the corner. As our board chair says, we need to go through a phase of diverging before we can start to converge. Better to get these concerns talked out than to regret not raising them afterward.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


Some school are ready now for redistricting said...

What about Horn? Doesn't their overcrowding need to be addressed now? Couldn't some of their population be put at Borlog or Weber? The west side of IC won't be affected by the opening of Grant.

Anonymous said...

If SAVE continues, does the district plan to use that money for the current facility plan?

Chris said...

Commenter #1 -- There may well be arguments for doing some elementary redistricting to take effect in 2017, like the one you mentioned. It definitely makes sense to discuss that. The reluctance might come mostly from the desire not to move any students twice in three years -- that is, once in 2017 and then again in 2019. It's true that Horn, Weber, and Borlaug are far from the planned location of Grant, but it's still possible that ripple effects of 2019 redistricting could affect them. But you're right that Horn is already over capacity, and the current facilities master plan does not have any component to address that. It's also true that Weber will be getting an addition in 2017 (though its current attendance area is projected to fill that addition within a few years). So the board needs to be thinking of ways to address it, and redistricting in 2017 might be one possible means.

Anonymous -- Unless we change the facilities plan, it's the plan, as long as money comes through one way or the other. But if a SAVE extension passed, it would probably make sense to review the plan in light of the availability of those funds. A full extension might make some things possible that weren't in the plan before (like addressing the overcrowding at Horn, for example).

Chris said...

I should add: I just don't know whether the availability of the SAVE money would make additional projects possible. Regardless of funding, there is a limit to the number of building projects the district can handle at one time, so it might be hard to start piling on new projects, and it's not clear to what extent an extension would actually give us additional funding beyond what we're already planning to spend.

Anonymous said...

How much do we spend to bus kids to Hills? I'm hearing concerns about bussing to Grant and to New Hoover, but no discussion of how many kids are within two miles of Hills, how many are bussed to Hills and the associated costs and class sizes.

Chris said...

Anon -- I can't say with certainty, but from the maps it looks like virtually all of the kids who are bused to Hills would have to be bused to any other school we could send them to. And if Hills Elementary weren't there, we'd have to take all the kids who are walkable to Hills and put them on a bus, too.

Anonymous said...

How many of the kids bussed to Hills are within a walkable distance to another school?

Using our Resources said...

Chris - in response to your comment "I have been trying to read up on some of the social science literature on efforts to diversify schools by socioeconomic class"

I do hope that you and other Board members utilize the very unique resources we have available in our community: The College of Education at the University. I don't know if there are experts in that particular area, but having people in our community who devote their lives to research in education should not be overlooked.

Anonymous said...

The bond may not pass--is what the district is spending money on now necessary such as tennis courts or should money be spent on the buildings kids occupy?

Is the board looking at the district's own data to see how FRL kids do in high FRL schools compared to low?

Katy D said...

Chris - In following along with the board meetings and board work sessions it seems very clear that there are a few board members who have reservations in moving forward with creating the boundaries for the 3 new schools. It doesn't make sense to me either to come up with boundaries for schools that we don't even have money to build at this time. Why not put out a motion to halt the boundary discussions until the bond passes? I don't understand the urgency to get them in place--we're talking about creating boundaries for a project that is 3 years in the future and we don't even know if the bond will pass!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Katy completely. I also have a hard time understanding the urgency of the boundary discussion for future schools that may or may not materialize. I can see the reason to avoid moving kids multiple times. But we can achieve that by other means easily and boundary change is probably the least effective tool to do that. I think it is pretty common sense that you redraw it when the school opens.

Anonymous said...

Citing Kahlenberg as a good source of advice on "educational models" is akin to citing Paul Bremer as a good source of advice on "nation building." Besides both being Yale graduates both have been involved with massive failures that stem from their own lack of competency in the fields of research and ethics.

Kahlenberg is an opportunist who (for decades) hid behind a lack of data reporting while trumpeting his cause, "school reform through integration." This guy has done a lot of harm in his three plus decades of leeching onto this cause (and the grant money that follows).

Read his stuff and it's always the same, there's a correlation between low income and academic success, nothing has ever worked, and here is a solution in socioeconomic integration. Why doesn't Kahlenberg try and get published outside of the soft journals the Century Foundation supports? It's about time that the history books start to reflect that among the failures of educational reform since the Coleman Report SES Integration is among the worst.

Kahlenberg has never put himself in a position of accountability (or responsibility for that matter) when it came to the failures of La Crosse, WI or Rochester, NY or Wake County, NC or Montgomery County, MD or any of the other places his ideology has taken root.

And don't expect to see Kahlenberg and his grant money around here. He is someone who is all about himself and whatever means necessary to support his top 1% lifestyle living in one of the wealthiest and least diverse towns/school districts in the country.

low said...

The smart thing to do is to keep Hoover open and defer building the new eastside school. This would free up money for a new school where it is more needed and/or any number of other projects. Once the new eastside school is built, Hoover becomes unneeded and taxpayers will have the choice to give more bond money to the district or to vote no to the bond. Given the poor prioritization which has occurred, there will be many no votes and many kids will be left with inadequate facilities while others will be in new facilities which were not needed.

The board can avoid that outcome by revisiting the Hoover issue. If it doesn't, I don't see a positive bond vote coming.

Anonymous said...

Too late. Been fighting that fight and avoiding the ridiculous Mis-use of taxpayer money for a few years now to no avail.

Kids crammed into classrooms and trailers in the north while the east gets an unnecessary school.

Official ground breaking ceremony today for New Hoover.

Anonymous said...

This kind of goes along with the last two comments. Looking at the current FMP in general it looks like there is decent under capacity at many east side schools (Alexander +152, Hoover +32, Mann +20, Shimek +27, Twain +40, Wood +48, but Longfellow -80 and Lucas -61) and then considerable over capacity at many West / North schools (CC -60, Garner -164, Horn -90, Lincoln -52, Weber -24, Wickham -100). I do not understand how we can justify closing an East side school and then building an additional East side school all before addressing more urgent over capacity issues at other West / North schools. And who decides which projects get priority and which have to wait for the GO Bond vote? I don't know how it all works but it seems like the priorities may be out of order. It looks like right now there is suffiecient capacity on the East side if we adjust boundaries a little. What happens if the GO Bond does not pass - is there a plan for if this happens or are we just going to shift all of the boundaries around?

Chris said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

Anonymous (3:03) -- I agree to some extent with the point you are making, but I do think it's possible to overstate it. The goal of the FMP is not to accommodate 2015-16 enrollment, but to accommodate 2024-25 enrollment (and ultimately beyond). Our projections show that the east side will continue to grow, and I don't doubt that all of our capacity -- at "Old" Hoover and Hoover East -- will eventually be necessary. There are certainly valid criticisms, though, of the pacing of the added capacity on the east side as opposed to other areas where there is more of an immediate need.

If the GO bond does not pass (and if the state does not extend our SAVE funding), then the district will have to go back to the voters with a better proposal, which will likely delay all GO-funded 2019 projects by at least a year. It would also throw a monkey wrench into any redistricting plan that we've developed, which is one reason to consider waiting until after the 2017 election to settle on an elementary redistricting plan.