Westerville News & Public Opinion

Westerville elementary schools

District vows to have attendance plan soon


With the Westerville Board of Education calling off its overhaul of elementary school attendance boundaries for the next school year, the district's administration now must plan for overcrowding at more than half of the elementary schools.

If the magnet school program ends as planned at the end of this school year, seven of the remaining 12 elementary schools will be overcrowded next year.

McVay Elementary School will be the most overcrowded, at 121 percent capacity, followed by Wilder at 119 percent of capacity, Mark Twain at 118 percent, Fouse at 113 percent, Hawthorne at 109 percent, Alcott at 107 percent and Annehurst at 102 percent.

Meanwhile, Robert Frost would be at only 79 percent of its student capacity, Whittier at 83 percent, Cherrington and Huber Ridge at 88 percent and Pointview at 97 percent.

"Families have expressed their concerns about overcrowding for several years," district spokesman Greg Viebranz said. "We've been managing this issue by reassigning students from what would be their home school to other buildings that have space."

Often, the capacity numbers at an individual school don't tell the whole story, because certain grade levels in a school can be over capacity without the entire school being overcrowded, Viebranz said.

"In these cases, rather than incur the expense of adding a new section for that particular grade level, we've been reassigning students to a building with space at the grade level in question," Viebranz said. "It's a balancing act between addressing space needs appropriately while keeping added costs to a minimum."

Overcrowding is more of a concern next year because with the magnet school program's scheduled end at the conclusion of this school year, participating students will have to be assigned to their neighborhood's home school, he said.

The realignment process the district went through at the beginning of this year aimed to address that by creating an attendance boundary for a joint Emerson/Hanby Elementary School.

The board of education called off that process March 18 because of public outcry against it.

The district has not announced whether it will seek board action to keep the magnet schools open.

"All that is known at this time is that district administration will have to use means other than boundary realignment to address those schools with specific grade levels exceeding their ideal capacity," Viebranz said. "We understand that families of magnet program students are waiting for an answer, and we pledge to communicate any decisions with them as soon as they are finalized.

"The administration is attempting to deal with capacity and programming issues by examining four primary components: classroom space that is available across the district, specific needs of our student population, open enrollment options and pupil-teacher ratios."

Viebranz said administrators recognize they must hurry to have a plan for the next school year in place, both to notify families of changes and to make logistical plans for the district for the next school year.

"The first day of school next year is Aug. 14," Viebranz said. "Our logistics office needs at least six weeks to develop bus routes, and then we need at least two or three additional weeks to prepare and mail that information to families. There's a lot of work that goes into preparing for a new school year.

"We want to reassure our families that we will have a plan," he said. "Despite the complexities we're trying to address, every student will receive a high-quality education in our schools next year."