Archive for Thursday, December 21, 2006

Board considers east-side boundary alternatives

December 21, 2006

The De Soto USD 232 Board of Education considered a number of alternatives to proposed school boundary changes before agreeing to discuss the issue again next month.

Board members spent most of their three-hour meeting Monday talking about the boundaries for Horizon Elementary School, now nearing completion at 7210 Chouteau in Shawnee.

The school is scheduled to open in August 2007 with a capacity of 600 students and will alleviate crowding at other west Shawnee elementary schools. Mill Creek Middle School, north of 83rd Street and Mize Road, is also scheduled to open in 2007. A boundary committee of about 20 parents from every school presented the board with a proposal in October. The proposal would open Horizon with 450 students and Mill Creek Middle School with 483 students.

After learning of the proposed boundaries, several parents spoke at two public hearings in opposition to the boundary committee's proposal, which would change the boundaries of all the district's Shawnee elementary schools.

One group, Families for CommUNITY Schools, created its own proposal. The group's parents -- mostly from neighborhoods north of Johnson Drive whose children attend Clear Creek Elementary School -- said it was unreasonable for them to pass by two schools to take their children to Horizon Elementary School, south of Shawnee Mission Parkway. Most parents who spoke at the hearings did not want their children to change schools -- either to a new elementary school or a new middle school. Board members received hundreds of e-mails from parents.

All board members agreed the decision would not be an easy one, and there would be students forced to enroll in new schools against their parents' wishes.

Board member Sandy Thierer said although she understood the families' concerns, she had to make the best decision based on student learning.

"I looked at every possible thing you could do with schools and there was no logical conclusion," she said. "We have so many lots that are not built out. We have no way of knowing who is going to build out next."

Thierer said, reluctantly, that the boundary committee's proposal seemed to be the best solution. She agreed, however, that sending a small neighborhood north of Johnson Drive to Horizon Elementary School didn't make sense.

"We can make it easy on ourselves and do what everybody wants and everybody will clap, or we can bite the bullet and say, 'I have to come up with the best solution.'"

Board member Janine Gracy said she knew it would be a tough decision, but one that needed to be made soon in order to hire appropriate staff.

Thierer noted that if the board wanted to hire experienced teachers, they would need to make a decision by February.

Board members suggested several alternatives to the boundary committee proposal, including the proposal suggested by CommUNITY. Some of the ideas for elementary boundaries include:

  • A kindergarten center for Horizon Elementary School. All kindergartners in west Shawnee, who attend a half-day of school in the De Soto district, would go to the new elementary. This would keep older children from having to move. However Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said it would cost a lot for the district to transport 5-year-old students in the district to the school. The largest numbers of kindergartners live near Riverview Elementary School, some distance from the new elementary. It would require the children ride the bus several miles without their siblings. It would also require a different set of staff.

Board members also agreed they wouldn't keep Horizon a kindergarten-only building and would have to re-draw the boundaries in a few years anyway. Starside Elementary School would continue to house its kindergarten, so it would cause an uneven system across the district.

  • Adding classrooms onto full schools. District operations director Jack Deyoe said the district did not have enough money to build new additions without passing a bond. Board member Rick Walker figured it would cost about $110 per student -- so about $1.5 million to build a 150-student add on.
  • Using temporary classrooms. Board member Janine Gracy said she was completely against this idea after having a child attend trailer-type classrooms for two years. They take away from instructional time, she said, and safety was a major concern. Also, it would not provide a long-term solution to the problem. Board member Larry Meyer agreed.

"I would also like to have the least number of disruptions to students that we can possibly have," he said.

  • Making slight changes to boundaries. Deyoe presented numbers of each subdivision, which showed that changes could be made to switch the boundaries. However, if one subdivision were allowed to stay at its current school, another would have to leave. For example, about 132 students from Woodland Park, Monticello Farms and Herrington Park subdivisions could be sent to Horizon in place of the 125 students from the Brittany Valley, Holliday Hills, Mill Creek Meadows and Woodland Townhomes -- mostly the Families for CommUNITY schools group.

Learning services director Bret Church said he's had time to access the impact of the boundary committee's proposal on student learning. He hasn't had time for his staff to study the impact of other proposals.

Although the board spent less time on middle school boundaries, Deyoe suggested one alternative would be to eliminate the feeder school plan and send students where space was available. Those to the east, such as Enchanted Lakes and Midland Road, would send their children to Horizon and then to Monticello Trails. Those to the west would attend Mill Creek.

Thierer suggested sending fifth-graders in the Mill Creek boundary to that school for one year and allowing eighth-graders to remain at their current buildings.

"Kids that are that age really struggle with that kind of thing," she said. "Elementary students are a little more resilient."

The board will meet again Jan. 11 to discuss the issue and conduct a regular business meeting.

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