Schools need to be realigned, trustees told

01/27/2014 9:26 PM

01/27/2014 9:26 PM

Even with a slight dip in enrollment this year, Mansfield schools still have growing pains -- at least on the east side of the district.

After rezoning three elementary schools last year due to overcrowding, the district now needs to reconfigure attendance zones for the secondary schools on the east side, Darrell Sneed, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told trustees at last week’s board meeting.

Mary Lillard Intermediate School is already 24 students over its 1,000-student capacity, while Danny Jones Middle School is at 99 percent capacity with 989 students. Even Lake Ridge High School, which opened in 2012, is filling up with 1,922 students in a facility built to hold 2,400.

“We have to determine what is a reasonable threshold level,” Sneed said. “You can exceed capacity, but you have to establish how much above capacity can you go without it becoming problem for teaching and learning.”

Sneed recommended that the district form a district-wide committee “to look at not just next year but to be strategic in the decisions we make,” he said. Trustees should expect the problem to continue to grow, he warned.

“The demographer pointed out that we had a small reduction in overall enrollment, but still expect growth on the east side,” Sneed said. “The expected increase (across the district) over the next five years is 1,734.”

The district had 85 fewer students at the start of this school year than last year. Currently there are 32,819 students enrolled in the Mansfield district, Sneed said.

“In the past, when Mansfield was having really great growth, they were able to relieve crowding by opening a new school,” Sneed said. “Last year, no new schools were opening, but we had to redraw boundaries because a campus had exceeded capacity. That’s the first time that I’m aware of since Mansfield experienced rapid growth that we had to rezone without opening a new school.”

Last spring, the district realigned Louise Cabaniss, Anna May Daulton and Cora Spencer elementaries for the 2013-2014 school year due to overcrowding at Anna May Daulton Elementary, which was expected to exceed its 800-student capacity, while Louise Cabaniss Elementary was at 72 percent capacity. Cora Spencer Elementary also absorbed some students, Sneed said.

“We would have had to have portables (at Daulton), but portables would not have been feasible, based on layout of the land,” Sneed said. “We needed to look at not just this current year, but projected growth two to three years down the road.”

An attendance zone committee met and had parent meetings with proposed maps. The measure worked, but demographers predict that Elizabeth Smith and Cora Spencer elementaries will be over capacity by 2017, Sneed said.

Sneed recognizes that change can be difficult, but says he hasn’t had any negative response from the elementary rezoning, which went into effect this year.

“I haven’t had any response one way or the other,” he said. “I try to be very sensitive to the parents. Every person has a right to be heard. The final decision rests with the school board. We try to give the school board as much as information as we have and make sure that the parents are informed.”

Details, such as the number of people on the secondary school attendance zone committee, still have to be worked out, Sneed said.

“Typically, if you reside in the MISD then you are eligible to submit your name to be part of the committee,” he said. “We will use our website to convey attendance zone committee interest and dates of public hearings. The committee meetings are open to the public.”

Parent meetings are scheduled for Feb. 11 and Feb. 13, while the deadline to apply to be on the attendance zone committee is Feb. 18. The committee will meet Feb. 24 and March 18, followed by public hearings March 4 and March 6. Sneed hopes to have a recommendation for the school board by March 25.

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