After a year of sometimes contentious debate, a committee redrawing attendance zones for Fayette County Public Schools presented a summary of its proposals to the public Tuesday.
About 100 people attended the meeting at Central Office; many said they disagreed with the committee's recommendations.
Jennie Hale, a resident of Squire Oak, said decisions about her neighborhood, which included moving it from Edythe J. Hayes Middle School to Tates Creek Middle, were made late in the process, and "our voices weren't heard."
"In a nutshell, our neighborhoods had not been considered for rezoning nor discussed at any point in the process until the 11th hour, and by the time we were made aware of the proposed changes the committee was essentially done with its work," Tracy Paden, another resident of the Squire Oak and Hunting Hill areas, told the Herald-Leader.
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Hale said neighbors were "standing up to changes" they considered unjustified.
Additionally, Copperfield residents asked that the area remain at Beaumont Middle instead of being moved to Jessie Clark, in part because of potential overcrowding at Jessie Clark.
The recommendations are now in the hands of the Fayette County Board of Education, which will make the final decision. Board member Amanda Ferguson said she would be surprised if board members did not make at least some minor changes.
The redistricting committee of parents, teachers, administrators, two school board members, a district Equity Council representative, a city planning official, a home builder and other community stakeholders will meet with the school board next Tuesday.
The first wide-scale redistricting in 12 years became necessary because two new elementary schools will open in 2016, a sixth high school will open in 2017, and some schools are overcrowded, district officials said.
"In all my years of community service and civic involvement in Fayette County, I have never seen an endeavor on this scale conducted so openly and publicly," redistricting committee chairman and Lexington businessman Alan Stein said in a message posted on the district's website that he reiterated Tuesday during an interview. "At the end of the day there is no way to develop a plan that everyone agrees with. Our goal throughout this effort has been to make choices that are best for students and our community as a whole."
At least a few thousand students will be affected by the plan, but district officials did not have exact numbers Tuesday. The new plan is slated to take effect in 2016 for elementary students and 2017 for middle and high school students. A summary of the plan, provided by district attendance analyst Bob Joice, showed more than 30 revisions to attendance zones.
During the redistricting process, some neighborhoods organized campaigns whenever the committee released tentative decisions that were unpopular. Families generally did not want their children to attend low-performing schools and, in some cases, high-poverty schools.
The committee made attempts at achieving socioeconomic balance at various schools, one of the guiding principles set by the school board, but did not make a major dent on that front.
Committee members also determined that several of the goals outlined by the school board were in conflict.
The guiding principles included providing every child with a high-quality learning experience at every school and program, using student socioeconomic status as a primary consideration in the assignment of neighborhoods to schools, establishing feeder patterns, enabling students to attend neighborhood or nearby schools as much as possible, considering districtwide programs, and looking ahead to accommodate community growth.
Among the most debated recommendations involved moving the Fairway and Kenwick neighborhoods, currently assigned to high-achieving Morton Middle School, to Lexington Traditional Magnet School, where teachers say they provide a rigorous curriculum despite the school's status as "needs improvement" in the state accountability system.
Fairway residents spoke to the committee Tuesday about their concerns that the neighborhood off of Richmond Road was farther from LTMS than from Morton, but they said they thought LTMS was a good school.
In another case, neighbors successfully lobbied to move students in the Chilesburg, Walnut Creek and Stuart Hall neighborhoods from Breckinridge Elementary to Athens-Chilesburg Elementary, a higher-achieving school that they said was closer to their homes. One of those residents, Vicky Walters, said Tuesday that she thought the redistricting process had been open and hoped the school board would approve the proposed plan.
In addition to redrawing attendance zones, the committee also made several recommendations.
Among them were allowing students in certain grades to stay at their current schools after the changes take effect, and putting attractive programs at low-performing, high-poverty schools — and providing more funding at those schools.
"We hope that our work will leave Fayette County Public Schools stronger and more equitable for all students," Stein said in his message to parents.