Overcrowding and diversity pose challenges for Fayette schools committee redrawing attendance zones

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 15, 2014 

  • Next meeting

    The next redistricting committee meeting is at 4:30 p.m. May 29 at the Fayette County Public Schools warehouse facility, 1126 Russell Cave Road.

Martha Monroe attended a meeting about Fayette County Public Schools redistricting Thursday because some people in her neighborhood who live within walking distance of an elementary school must send their children to another school 6 miles away.

At the same time, families who lived in the same area before about 2005 are allowed to attend Athens-Chilesburg, "so it really breaks up the neighborhood," said Monroe, part of the Stuart Hall Neighborhood Association.

"Our kids don't know their neighbors because they don't go to school together," she said.

Concerns about overcrowding led to previous decisions about school assignments for neighborhoods around Athens-Chilesburg, district attendance analyst Bob Joice said. The school had 753 students in December, about 100 more than school officials say is the best capacity for the building.

The situation in Monroe's neighborhood illustrates just one dilemma faced by a committee that is redrawing school attendance zones. The boundaries are being revised because the district is building two more elementary schools — one off Polo Club Boulevard and one off Georgetown Road — which are set to open in fall 2016. A new high school on Winchester Road is set to open in 2017.

The committee is meeting publicly about twice monthly through at least December. The guiding principles approved by the school board for the committee include achieving a socioeconomic balance at schools and making sure that students go to schools near their homes. Firm decisions about new school attendance zones aren't expected until early 2015.

In addition to considering the capacity of schools, committee members at Thursday's meeting, held at the Herald-Leader building, discussed data about the racial and economic diversity of Fayette County neighborhoods and schools.

Data show that 889 Fayette County public school elementary students weren't able to go their assigned neighborhood elementary schools because of overcrowding. Those students were sent to other schools as part of a program called the student continuation plan.

About 20 Fayette County public schools had more students enrolled than the building capacity called for.

Building capacity is determined by multiplying the number of regular classrooms by 25. Generally, 650 students is considered the desired maximum for an elementary school, Joice said.

He said having more students enrolled than a school's building capacity is not always unacceptable in the short term, because some schools have portable classrooms or can otherwise accommodate more students.

The committee received data from district officials that showed that at least 14 elementary schools were above capacity to varying degrees in December: Ashland, Athens-Chilesburg, Booker T. Washington Intermediate, Cardinal Valley, Cassidy, Lansdowne, Liberty, Northern, Rosa Parks, Russell Cave, Sandersville, Wellington, William Wells Brown and Yates.

Russell Cave was over capacity by only one student. Liberty, in comparison, had 825 students enrolled with a building capacity of 650.

Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools were above capacity, as were Tates Creek, Morton, Edythe J. Hayes and Beaumont middle schools.

Meanwhile, maps provided by district officials showed that several neighborhoods in Lexington are not diverse. Many neighborhoods had more than 80 percent white residents; nearly 20 areas had more than 50 percent black residents; and about 10 areas had more than 50 percent Hispanic residents. In about eight areas around Lexington, more than 20 percent of the families are Asian, maps showed.

In some neighborhoods in Lexington, most students paid for their lunch, an indication that their families were not living in poverty. In about 10 areas, most students received free or reduced-priced lunches. Additionally, a few schools had extremely high or extremely low percentages of students who received free or reduced lunch.

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

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