Saturday, March 4, 2017

Update: North Corridor elementary boundary decision postponed

In January, when the school board voted to approve the bond proposal, it also decided that the new North Corridor elementary school would be built on a different site than originally planned. The new site is about two and a half miles northwest of the original site. (See this post.)

Because of the site change, the board will have to adjust the elementary boundaries that it adopted last May. At this week’s work session, we discussed whether the board should redraw those boundaries now or wait until after this September’s board election and bond vote. The board decided to postpone that decision until after the election.

Two neighborhoods are particularly likely to be affected. Under the current boundary plan, the neighborhoods nearest the new site are zoned to go to Penn, but some of them will almost certainly be rezoned to attend the new school. (One of the advantages of the site change is that the new site has many more kids within walking distance than the old one does.)

The other area that seems most likely to be affected is the “North Lincoln” neighborhood. That area, which currently goes to Lincoln, was supposed to attend the new elementary school. But most North Lincoln residents are four or five miles from the new site. If the neighborhoods around the new site are added to the new school’s attendance area, some neighborhoods will have to be subtracted, and the North Lincoln neighborhoods are the farthest away.

Other areas could also be affected. For example, because the new school’s site was relocated, the board shrunk the addition that was planned for Garner (which is relatively close to the new site). That may mean that Garner’s new boundaries will have to be adjusted. Until the board gets right down to working out the details, it’s hard to know exactly who will be affected.

The district still owns the land that it had originally designated to be the site of the new elementary (just south of the new high school). There is a lot of development under way in that area, so there is a lot of potential for enrollment growth there. In a document summarizing “future needs,” the administration included a second new North Corridor elementary school, which would go on that site. But the board chose not to include that elementary school in its bond proposal, which covers the facilities plan through 2023-24. So, under the plan being presented to the voters, a school on that location would not be considered until some time after 2023-24.

I supported this week’s decision to wait until after the 2017 election to redraw the North Corridor elementary boundaries. During the elementary boundary discussion last year, I argued that it made sense to wait until after the election and the bond vote to draw new boundaries, rather than draw them three and half years in advance without updated enrollment projections. I still feel the same way. If the bond passes, there will still be two years before the new elementary opens, so the board can settle boundaries well in advance of opening the school. If the bond fails, the board will have to come back to the public with a different bond proposal, which could mean changing boundaries yet again. It just makes sense to wait until we know more before settling boundaries.

At the time, we heard a lot of arguments about how irresponsible it would be to put the 2019 elementary boundary decision off until after the 2017 election—it was even compared to not confirming Judge Garland!—but the rest of the board now seems to have come around to the idea. I still think we did the public a disservice by announcing boundaries that we knew would probably have to change before they took effect. It was particularly wrong to announce to North Lincoln families that they would attend the new elementary school when two hour earlier, on the very same night, in closed session, the board had decided to pursue the option of relocating the school site. In a democracy, all decisions are subject to change, but there was no reason to raise expectations that far in advance with so many possible changes on the horizon.

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