Transfers, feeder schools among concerns at school redistricting forum

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 10:46 p.m. CST; updated 5:13 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — The room was emptier than in past forums on Tuesday night as 30 people gathered for the third Columbia Public Schools redistricting forum at West Junior High School. 

The secondary enrollment planning committee presented boundary changes slated to take place when Battle High School opens in August 2013.

Forum schedule

 All the forums will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the schools' media centers. Here's the remaining schedule:

  • Nov. 9, Jefferson Junior High School
  • Nov. 10, Oakland Junior High School
  • Nov. 15, Smithton Middle School
  • Nov. 16, Lange Middle School
  • Nov. 17, Gentry Middle School

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Residents expressed the most concern about transfer policies and splitting up feeder schools. West Junior High falls within Hickman High School territory in every scenario.

Last week's forums focused on balancing demographics and transportation. In every forum this month, the committee said it hopes to gather community feedback so it can narrow the three approaches down to two to recommend to the school board in February.

Community members and district officials expressed strong feelings about the boundary changes at the forum Tuesday evening: 

Margrace Buckler said in one of the scenarios, her children would change high schools: "What if we don’t want to?” she asked. “What I’m seeing is that first year, the Hickman enrollment is enormous." Buckler said it could be helpful if the district would allow her students to remain at Rock Bridge High School.

Wanda Brown, the assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the board would handle all issues regarding transfer policies.

James Tarr also has a child attending school in the district: "The first thing I'll say is Columbia's got great schools because our kids will do great under all the different scenarios," he said.

Tarr said it wasn’t clear to him from media coverage that there are five scenarios, not three, because of possible combinations. Intermediate map B can only be paired with high school map B, but the intermediate maps for approaches A and C can be paired with either A or C of the high school maps.

"I'm sure glad I came to this meeting," he said.

Laura Shopp has two children, an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader at West: She said she likes high school scenario C because she thinks it evens out demographics the most.

"We're starting behind the eight ball in terms of geographic demographic disparity," she said.

Shopp thanked the committee for its hard work and said she couldn't imagine how difficult it was.

"It was kind of fun in a geeky sort of way," committee co-chairman Darin Preis replied.

Nora Drown has four kids in the district: She said her daughter went to West and is now at Rock Bridge. She said it's hard for her because under the current system, half her daughter’s friends went to Hickman and half went to Rock Bridge.

Brown said this wouldn't happen in scenario B because that approach focused on keeping the intermediate schools together.

Melissa Tague has two sons, a 2010 Hickman graduate and a ninth-grader at West: "We bought the house, and we were in Hickman. And lo and behold, you changed the districts. And now you're doing it again," she said.

She said her ninth-grade son would go to Rock Bridge under current boundaries but will be at Hickman in 2013. She wants to know if he will have to go to Rock Bridge for one year then Hickman the following year. She said she likes option C because it is more balanced.

Brown told Tague that her son would be allowed to transfer a year before changes take effect.

Committee member Lisa Reed said she has been recording comments and putting them on a spreadsheet for the committee to use: She said she wished the committee had assigned families within the one- or two-mile walking distances of the schools to those schools. That way people would be in the boundaries for the schools they are closest to.

As a committee member and a taxpayer, she said she can't understand why people are not being sent to the school closest to them.

"We've got to have a better way of using our resources," she said.

"I really think we were pressed for time," Reed said. "We had a lot better ideas, but we just ran out of time."

Missourian reporter James Ayello contributed to this article.

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