Westerville News & Public Opinion

Realignment options will focus on neighborhood school concept

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The Westerville City School District is focusing on the concept of "neighborhood schools" as it continues its process of realigning elementary school boundaries.

The district's administration presented three potential options for new boundaries to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday, Feb. 11.

All the options focused on sending students to a neighborhood school closest to their homes while minimizing the amount of "noncontiguous" areas, or attendance areas that are not centered around a school, causing students to be bused farther away.

"Noncontiguous areas are needed due to the placement of our schools. (But) noncontiguous areas should be minimized," district Business Operations Services Executive Director Jeff LeRose said.

The school board and the administration began looking at redistricting because about half the district's elementary schools are over capacity while the other half are under.

The phase-out of the magnet program, which is set to end after this school year due to budget cuts made after the failure of a levy in November 2011, also was a factor, LeRose said.

The district was considering whether to focus on neighborhood schools or on aligning schools so the percentages of minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students in each building more closely mirrored the demographics of the overall district.

Currently, the percentages of minority and disadvantaged students in each elementary school vary greatly.

There is a 47-percent spread between the elementary school with the highest number of minority students and the elementary school with the lowest number of minority students. That spread is currently 66 percent for socio-economically disadvantaged students, a number based on the amount of students who are on the district's free and reduced-price lunch program.

With the three options presented to the school board, the percentage spread for minority students would be between 39 and 43 percentage points, and the spread for disadvantaged students would be between 57 and 62 percentage points.

One advantage to creating schools that are more neighborhood-based, regardless of demographics, is that the district will be able to focus resources on schools with higher levels of economically disadvantaged students, who generally face more challenges in school, LeRose said.

Superintendent Dan Good said the focus on neighborhood schools in creating options for new attendance boundaries was based on feedback received from the community.

"The options weren't created in a vacuum," Good said.

The board was positive about the focus on neighborhood schools, though members acknowledged that creating neighborhood schools was a challenge, particularly because most elementary schools are located within the Westerville city limits, while a significant portion of the school district is not.

"That's a challenge when you have a third of your student population in an area where there are three elementary schools," board member Kristi Robbins said. "The majority of our schools are within Westerville itself, and the newer schools are up north. It's a challenge, and it's something that we need to consider."

Board member Carol French said the board must focus on moving as few students as possible during the realignment process and on supporting the neighborhood concept because many parents buy homes based on the schools they would like their children to attend.

"I think all of us feel that our biggest and most important job is to make sure that we move the smallest amount of students possible, bus them, that we allow as many students as possible to stay at their home schools," French said. "We need to honor that and allow that as much as possible to allow that student to go to that particular elementary that that parent chose to be a part of."

The options presented to the board will be presented during two public open houses: one at 8 a.m. today, Feb. 14, at Huber Ridge Elementary School, 5757 Buenos Aires Blvd., and one at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Alcott Elementary School, 7117 Mount Royal Ave.

The options will be tweaked based on the feedback received and on feedback from the transportation department, LeRose said. The district's administration will present a recommendation on new attendance boundaries for a first reading at the school board's Feb. 25 meeting.

A vote on new attendance boundaries would come at the board's March 11 meeting.

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