School planning committee chairman outlines schedule for redrawing district boundaries

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | 8:33 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 27, 2011

COLUMBIA — A committee charged with redrawing the boundaries within Columbia Public Schools is weeks away from presenting three scenarios to the public.

But there's still a lot of wrangling to do first.

In other action

The school board approved a lease agreement from UMB and Central banks to fund the addition to the District Administration Building and construction of the new Early Childhood Development Center.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will fully reimburse the district for the cost of the development center over the next eight years.

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Reporting to the Columbia School Board on Thursday, committee chairman Don Ludwig called the process “a pretty daunting one. But it's manageable.”

Ludwig updated the board on the schedule for the Secondary Enrollment Planning Committee and the effects of new boundaries on students, teachers and transportation services.

Ludwig outlined the committee's timeline:

  • Mid-October - come to consensus on three scenarios for reorganization of boundaries.
  • Oct. 27 - present scenarios to the public.
  • First week of November - hold community forum at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.
  • Second week - hold forum at Jefferson, Oakland and West junior high schools.
  • Third week - hold forum at Gentry, Lange and Smithton middle schools.
  • December - come to consensus on two scenarios.
  • January 2012 - update scenarios based on new economic and growth projections for the district from the research group RSP and Associates’ projections.
  • February 2012 - make a recommendation to the school board.

The board will make a decision in March, Ludwig said.

Committee's guiding principles

Boundaries are being redrawn to incorporate Battle High School when it opens in the fall of 2013 in northeastern Columbia and to accommodate a new configuration of grades.

The plan is to get rid of middle and junior high schools and create intermediate schools for grades six through eight. High schools will have grades nine through 12. Elementary schools will remain the same with kindergarten through fifth grade.

Ludwig said based on public feedback this year, the committee is using certain factors to evaluate the various scenarios, including:

  • Balancing demographics.
  • Minimizing bus and automobile travel while taking into account time, distance and safety.
  • Analyzing what Ludwig called “logical” attendance areas such as feeder schools.
  • Understanding projected enrollment growth in consideration with building capacities.

Committee structure, focus

The number of scenarios before the committee keeps fluctuating because every time a street or neighborhood is moved into a new school boundary area for consideration, it has a ripple effect. Ludwig told the board that the committee has narrowed the number of possible scenarios to 102 — “and moving."

To keep its plans organized, the planning committee divided itself into three subcommittees, each charged with considering proposals with a different approach.

One is tasked with matching high schools with intermediate feeder schools, another on maintaining elementary schools in groups and a third on creating "logical intermediate attendance areas" that make the most sense based on proximity to schools.

Although each group has a different focus, the committee as a whole must factor in RSP and Associates' evaluations of the city's economics, population and poverty.

Poverty is an especially important factor due to the extra responsibilities schools have providing for students eligible for free and reduced lunches, Ludwig said. Spreading out the responsibility as equally as possible is a goal of the committee, but it's also a challenging one, he said.

"If we're to divide up the district simply by geography, 48 percent of all of the free and reduced lunches would be at Battle High School," Ludwig said. "Obviously we can't do that."

Transitions for students, teachers

The grades are being reconfigured to reduce the number of transitions students make from one school to another from four to three. The district has a video on its website illustrating the changes.

Teachers will also be asked to transition when redistricting occurs. In January, a survey will be sent out to all teachers in the district asking them where they would like to be in the 2013-14 school year. The district will consider this information when assigning teachers to schools.

"We want teachers to have an input, but this is about the children first," said Dana Clippard, assistant superintendent for human resources for the district. "It will be about goodness of fit. We will try to find a balance of skill set and experience to be fair to all students."

The district also must take student transportation into consideration before redistricting is finalized. With new boundaries for schools, a new bus system must be implemented. Numerous scenarios are being proposed and considered.

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