Pickerington Times-Sun

District to host K-6 realignment forums

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Pickerington Local School District officials next month will host the first of four community forums to discuss the relocation of the district's preschool and realigning attendance boundaries for students in grades.

According to district officials, overcrowded classrooms at Sycamore Creek Elementary, Pickerington Elementary and the Pickerington Learning Steps Preschool are forcing tough decisions for the 2014-15 school year.

If left unaddressed, they said last week, the district won't be able to house its preschool students in one location, and a growing number of students in kindergarten through sixth grade will be shuttled to school buildings outside of their neighborhoods.

Oct. 16, the district will host the first of four community forums to discuss these issues and to solicit input about how attendance boundaries should be realigned to alleviate classroom overcrowding and "overflow," a term officials use when students must be bused to school buildings outside their regular attendance zones.

"We are overflowing and shuttling students on buses because the attendance zones need to be realigned," said Rob Walker, Pickerington superintendent.

"What we need to do is redraw the boundaries, the attendance lines," he said.

The Oct. 16 forum will be held at Sycamore Creek Elementary School, and subsequent forums will be held Oct. 23 at Violet Elementary School, Oct. 30 at Pickerington Elementary School and Nov. 6 at Heritage Elementary School.

Each forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. They are open to all members of the community, regardless of where they live or which school their children might attend.

"We'll have a general session where information will be presented to parents and members of the community about the issues we're dealing with," said Bob Blackburn Pickerington's assistant superintendent.

"Then we'll have breakout groups where we'll get input from the public."

Blackburn said the overflow issues primarily are driven by growth in certain parts of the school district in recent years.

Additionally, the district's contract with its teacher's union provides K-4 classrooms can have no more than 26 students, fifth- and sixth-grade classes can have no more than 28 students and grade 7-12 classrooms must be capped at 30 students.

Recently, that's led to capacity issues at Pickerington Elementary, where about 15 students have been shuttled to other buildings, and Sycamore Creek, where two students have been sent to other schools within the district.

"They have no more classroom space," Blackburn said.

"You're never going to completely eliminate shuttling, but we're hoping that by realigning the boundaries, we're going to eliminate some of that."

Blackburn said a possible proposal will be to send more students to Toll Gate Elementary and Violet Elementary, where currently there are "empty classrooms."

However, district officials want to hear ideas from the public before offering recommendations to the Pickerington Board of Education this winter.

Additionally, the district is seeking public opinion about overcrowding at the Pickerington Learning Steps Preschool, which currently is housed primarily in portable module outside Diley Middle School.

"It's the only portable still being used and we would like to find a permanent home for the preschool," Blackburn said.

"The preschool also has outgrown that portable and we have preschool students spilling over to a classroom in Diley Middle School."

Blackburn said the district is hopes to house the preschool in multiple classrooms under a single roof to better utilize teacher, student therapist and support staff.

"The plan is to gather information," he said.

"We have a steering committee that meets on a regular basis, and proposals likely will be presented to the (school) board in December.

"Hopefully, we'll have a decision regarding realignment in January."

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