Mill Creek boundaries altered to ease overcrowding

Monday, December 9, 2013 | 10:25 p.m. CST; updated 11:05 p.m. CST, Monday, December 9, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board on Monday voted 5-2 to change Mill Creek Elementary School's attendance boundaries in an effort to relieve overcrowding, allowing other schools to absorb additional students.

The plan will move about 90 of the school's 851 students to Paxton Keeley, Russell Boulevard and Grant elementary schools in the 2014-15 school year.

Some students living in the northeast section of Mill Creek's current boundary will be transferred to Grant and Russell Boulevard. On the northwest part of the zone, students will go to Paxton Keeley.

Jan Mees and Tom Rose dissented in the vote.

Columbia Public Schools estimates the new boundary lines will change enrollment for the schools in the following ways:

  • Paxton Keeley will increase enrollment to 728 from 673.
  • Russell Boulevard will increase enrollment  to 546 from 504.
  • Grant will increase enrollment to 352 from 316.

The board left some issues relating to Mill Creek enrollment unresolved. It tabled these topics:

Parents wanted their fourth-grade students to finish elementary school at Mill Creek next year.

  • DECISION: Of the students affected by the boundary change, the 13 students who will be fifth-graders in 2014-15 will be allowed to stay at the school.
  • TO BE DECIDED: The board chose to table the proposal to ask Mill Creek families to provide transportation for the 13 fifth-graders next year. They want to know the number of fifth-graders who will need transportation and how much that will cost before making a decision.

If the fifth-graders are allowed to stay at Mill Creek, parents wanted to keep their siblings with them.

  • PROPOSAL: The boundary proposal did not recommend allowing the 20 siblings of the future Mill Creek fifth-graders to stay at the school.
  • TO BE DECIDED: The board chose to table the proposal because of concern about losing the family nature of elementary schools if siblings are divided. Board President Christine King referenced an email from a parent expressing concern that having two students in different schools with the same start times would be logistically difficult. The board suggested surveying Mill Creek parents for more feedback.

In previous meetings, Mill Creek parents voiced concern that they didn't have enough control over where their children go to school.

  • PROPOSAL: The boundary proposal suggested allowing Mill Creek families to request transfers to other elementary schools for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
  • TO BE DECIDED: The board chose to table the proposal to allow the families to request transfers. They were concerned that allowing only families at Mill Creek to choose their schools would be unfair to families in other schools.

These decisions come after several meetings this year with parents, teachers and district representatives about solutions to overcrowding at Mill Creek, which is 151 students over capacity.

At the meetings, parents said they were worried that moving students from school to school would harm their academic performance and the Mill Creek community. At the Monday meeting, the board discussed using welcome nights, summer school programs and welcome letters to introduce students to the new schools.

Many areas affected by this boundary change will again receive new boundary lines when an elementary school opens in southwest Columbia in 2016, but the board approved measures to stem some of the students' movement. Students attending Paxton Keeley will be allowed to stay when the southwest school opens.

The board plans to vote on the tabled proposals at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Bond issue

The board also unanimously approved adding a $50 million bond issue — a 4-cent property tax increase — to Columbia's April 8 ballot for a new elementary school.

If the bond proposal is approved by the county clerk in January, it will be on the ballot. Fifty-seven percent of voters will need to approve the proposal for it to take effect in spring 2016.

If approved, the majority of the funds would go to a new elementary school in eastern Columbia, with a planned opening in 2018. The school is intended to relieve overcrowding in Cedar Ridge Elementary School, a school with more students in trailers than in classrooms.

Remaining funds would be divided between maintenance and construction projects throughout the district. Project plans include renovations to Rock Bridge High School's athletics facilities, roof replacement for multiple district buildings and additions to elementary schools.

The bond issue is part of the district's 10-year development plan. Voters approved bond issues in 2010 and 2012 to pay for new elementary schools in northeast and southwest Columbia. The schools will open in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The plan also requires three $40 million bond issues in 2016, 2018 and 2020 for similar projects.

Sky Chadde contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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