Dear Fellow Directors,
As I’ve mentioned during our recent work sessions, I have growing doubts about the wisdom of proceeding with our current timeline for elementary redistricting, which would have us complete a 2019 redistricting plan by next month. I just wanted to put some of those thoughts in writing and make an initial proposal.
There are several reasons why I think we should reconsider proceeding with elementary redistricting:
- We’re drawing districts for schools that we don’t plan to open for another three and a half years.
- We’re using enrollment projections that were done almost five years before those schools are scheduled to open.
- There is a board election about halfway between now and when the new schools will open. That means that any redistricting we do will be subject to change by the next board. We can’t count on the next board to agree with decisions that we’ve made, especially if those decisions trigger opposition that is expressed in the voting booth.
- We don’t know whether the funding for Grant and other capacity additions will materialize. If it doesn’t, much of the redistricting we do will have to be undone by the next board.
- Proceeding on schedule effectively rules out anything but traditional attendance zones. If we wanted to look at other options, such as paired schools or magnet options, it would take longer than just a month or two to develop the proposal and build community support.
- It may make sense to open Grant in a different location than currently planned, and to defer opening a school on the planned Grant site until a later year when the area around it will be more developed. We should resolve that question before proceeding with elementary redistricting.
- Redistricting now could decrease the chances of passing a bond in 2017.
- It is increasingly hard to see how we can get to four “yes” votes on any redistricting plan by our target May deadline.
These reasons basically boil down to two. First, there are too many uncertainties that could end up altering what we would choose to do with 2019 redistricting. Second, I’m afraid that the whole process is taking our eye off the more important ball: putting the district in the best position to pass a bond that will fund our facilities plan.
In my view, that means revisiting the Facilities Master Plan. Again, it’s possible that we might have better options for where to put the next new school in the North Corridor. That, in turn, could affect when we would proceed with the Garner addition, and/or how large that addition should be. That in turn could affect the scheduling of other additions. It’s also possible (especially after we get updated enrollment projections) that we will find that we need additional capacity in the North Corridor sooner than we were expecting. If it were up to me, we would reverse the decision to close Hoover Elementary, so as not to generate a capacity need on the east side any sooner than necessary. As a result, I would cancel the Lemme addition. Whatever renovations Hoover still needs could be put later in the timeline, enabling us to advance other projects that are more urgent—for example, we might then be able to address overcrowding at Horn. I could go on.
If there’s a reasonable possibility that we’ll alter the Facilities Master Plan after getting new enrollment projections, it just doesn’t make sense to do redistricting first. Moreover, redistricting will divert our energy from the more important task. The importance to the district of getting the board and the community united around a bond proposal far outweighs the value of settling 2019 boundaries now.
Here’s what I would propose:
1. Table elementary redistricting for now. Alternatively, confine our discussion of elementary redistricting to changes that we could make in 2017 to address urgent needs (such as particularly urgent overcrowding concerns) that can’t wait until 2019.
2. Settle secondary boundaries as soon as possible. To do so, we should draw Liberty’s boundary by anticipating what our decision about Grant’s southern boundary would be if it goes forward on its planned site. (It would not be necessary, though, to settle the boundary between Grant and Garner or Penn, since those students will all attend Liberty regardless.) In my view, we should consider splitting some elementary schools after sixth grade—for example, sending “North Lincoln” (or some portion of it) to North Central and Liberty even if we don’t yet know whether they will be districted out of Lincoln for elementary school.
3. Obtain updated enrollment projections as soon as we can.
4. Revisit the Facilities Master Plan using updated projections and with an eye on maximizing the chance of bond passage.
5. Then return to the topic of elementary redistricting. Although it makes sense for the final decision on 2019 attendance zones to be made by the next board, we could play a constructive role by developing concrete options (traditional attendance areas? paired schools? magnets?) that candidates and voters could discuss during the 2017 board election.
I am writing this fairly quickly in hopes of getting it on the agenda for the April 12 work session. I mean it only as a starting point for discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.