Westerville News & Public Opinion

Board puts brakes on elementary realignment

Overcrowding issue isn't going away, leaders warn

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Elementary school attendance boundaries in the Westerville school district will remain unchanged for the 2013-14 school year.

Westerville Board of Education President Denise Pope announced the district was calling off its elementary realignment process at a special meeting of the board Monday evening, March 18. The meeting originally was scheduled for the board to hear a first reading of legislation to redraw the elementary attendance boundaries.

"It has become very clear that our board has not yet settled on the best course of action," Pope said, reading a statement from the board as the meeting was called to order. "All elementary boundaries next year will remain the same as they are configured for the current school year."

The board began the realignment process in mid-January, with the district's administration forming a committee to analyze district data and elementary boundaries to provide the board with boundary options.

The realignment was spurred by capacity issues at several elementary schools, an issue made worse with the scheduled closing of the magnet program at the end of this school year.

The capacity issues remain, though, Pope said.

"We still have capacity issues that we have to figure out before the start of the next school year," she said. "The capacity issues did not go away with the stopping of this process. We still have to figure out how we are going to house and educate our children next August."

The board voted to eliminate the magnet program after the failure of a levy in November 2011.

To implement the elimination of the program, the board voted to close Central College and Longfellow magnet schools at the end of the last school year.

The district created a "bridge year" for the current school year, during which no first-grade class was created within the program, and all students remaining in the program were moved to Emerson and Hanby magnet schools.

Emerson and Hanby were to close at the end of this school year, effectively ending the magnet program.

With the halting of the realignment process, it is unclear whether the magnet program will continue next year.

Without the magnet program, seven of the district's 14 elementary schools will be overcrowded next school year, district officials have said.

No timeline has been established for making a decision on the magnet program, district spokesman Greg Viebranz said, though it likely will take board action to keep the program running.

Following Pope's announcement, several parents addressed the board, mostly thanking members for their decision. Before the announcement, nearly 30 people had signed up for the public-comment portion of the meeting.

"I worked three hours on this speech, and boy, did it just get blown out of the water," parent Tracy Stocker said.

Stocker said parents in her neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods spent the weekend gathering more than 100 signatures, asking the board not to bus children to distant elementary schools.

"Yay, we all accomplished that without saying a word," she said. "Don't we wish everything was that easy?

"Thank you for looking at the realignment process and realizing how in the last two years this district has been in a complete state of chaos."

"I've spent the last two weeks looking at private schools, looking at home (schooling), trying to figure out what to do," said Jackie Keller, a parent in the Uptown area. "Uptown is a neighborhood. I don't want to see it split in all these crazy ways."

Nevertheless, many parents blasted the board on a process they said seemed rushed and lacked transparency and data.

"There are a lot of other options that I don't feel have even been entertained," Patrice Bordron told the board. "There's too much hearsay that I've seen, too much anecdotal (information) that's been provided. The problem is clearly not understood."

Other parents pleaded for the continuance of the magnet program.

"I've taught in a magnet school, and now I'm a parent of a magnet student," Sheri Chaffin said. "I really feel that the magnets are a benefit to our district. ... Please consider the great advantages of the magnet school program."

Board members Cindy Crowe and Carole French applauded the decision to halt the realignment, but Pope and board member Kristi Robbins expressed concern that it left issues unaddressed.

Board member Kevin Hoffman was absent.

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