Fayette board sets rules for determining where students will go to school

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2014 

With three new schools being planned to address overcrowding, Fayette County Public Schools officials voted Monday to implement guidelines to redistrict all of Lexington's public-school boundaries.

The vote establishes guiding principles — which vice chair Melissa Bacon said was "a good start" — that are to be followed by a redistricting committee. Families that live within a school's boundaries or district attend that school.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said Monday that district officials understood how important the redistricting plan was to the community.

"Any time you change someone's school zone there is an impact to the family," Shelton said. High growth areas in Lexington are likely to see the most movement, he said.

Another directive from the board is to establish a long-term plan so attendance boundaries don't have to be revisited every year.

Achieving economic diversity — a mixture of students from varying social classes — is the top priority in establishing the new boundaries, but the district also would like all students to attend a neighborhood or nearby school. The guidelines also direct the committee to consider how to regulate sending students to an alternate school if their neighborhood school is full or if they need a specific program that is not offered at their neighborhood school.

The steering committee for redistricting will include school board members, business leaders, Equity Council members, parents, Realtors, home builders, principals and city planning officials.

The process of redistricting all of Lexington's public-school boundaries is being necessitated by a new high school on Winchester Road and two new elementary schools. Officials said the elementary schools should open in fall 2016; the high school should open in fall 2017.

District officials also are looking for land for a third new elementary school and a new middle school.

Shelton said Monday that he would like to see the redistricting committee wrap up its work by spring 2015. Ideally, the plan would take effect in 2017.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the last time school redistricting was undertaken on this scale was in 2002.

In addition to trying to balance the economic diversity of students in every school, there are several other guiding principles.

Whenever feasible, district officials want specific elementary schools to feed into the same middle school and specific middle schools to feed into the same high school. The redistricting process also should consider the locations of districtwide programs such as preschool programs, Spanish Immersion and magnet programs to make sure they are in the best places to benefit students.

Recommendations also should consider the cost of transporting children and enrollment projections.

The guiding principles adopted by the school board Monday also mention the goal of drawing school boundaries so students who live within a mile of an elementary school are zoned to attend that school. Keeping kids with their neighbors was a common theme in several of the principles, such as ensuring that each elementary school have at least one preschool classroom and sending students with special needs to their neighborhood schools rather than to districtwide programs.

Students might be assigned to an alternate school if the school assigned to their neighborhood is considered full. The board will establish goals for the desired size of schools and consistent guidelines for when a school is considered full.

There is an expectation under the goals that no portable classrooms will be used once the redistricting plan is fully implemented, except as necessary to accommodate growth.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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