Jessamine County school board said ‘No’ to redistricting. Now what?

A sign advertised new homes that will be coming near the extension that will tie East Brannon Road to Tates Creek Road in northern Jessamine County.
A sign advertised new homes that will be coming near the extension that will tie East Brannon Road to Tates Creek Road in northern Jessamine County.

Jessamine County school officials are looking at redistricting options pitched by parents after a school board vote to change school assignment zones failed.

In advocating for the redistricting plan, Jessamine school district staff said changing assignment zones in the district of 8,400 students would help curb overcrowding in some Jessamine County schools and fill the empty seats at others. The issue is especially critical in the fast-growing Brannon Road area of north Jessamine County, near the Fayette County line.

Two parents were removed from the March 20 meeting when they spoke out without permission after being warned. After they left the meeting, there was a 2-2 tie board vote. Three votes were needed to approve the plan that would move students from Rosenwald-Dunbar Elementary School to Brookside Elementary School, and some middle and high school students from West Jessamine middle and high schools to East Jessamine middle and high schools. As a concession, school board members said students currently in fourth through 11th grade could stay at their present schools if parents provided transportation.

For now, district staff are looking at additional redistricting options that parents have presented, but they haven’t put redistricting back on any meeting agenda, said Patrice Jones, director of district public relations. One of those options involved moving fewer children than the plan that failed.

Parent Virginia Mims had said that the Jessamine County Board of Education was attempting to “quickly and quietly” change attendance zones in some of the same neighborhoods they redistricted four years ago without giving parents enough time to respond.

School board members Hallie Bandy and Debbie Hood voted for the plan. John Branscum and Bobby Welch voted against it. Board chair Amy Day recused herself because she owns property in the area that would have been redistricted.

“There seemed to be quite a bit of public outcry” and parents indicated they felt “blindsided,” Welch told the Herald-Leader in explaining his no vote. “I felt like we should have had more of a public forum.”

“At this time I wasn’t ready to make the decision to uproot these kids out of their environment without giving parents fair warning,” he said. But Welch said he thought that a resolution could be worked out to deal with overcrowding.

Mims, one of those escorted from the meeting, had spoken without permission to ask for a public hearing.

“Before the vote was going to happen, I did feel like it was necessary to say that our voices needed to be heard, that we needed a public forum,” Mims said.”We had been warned that any further disruption would result in removal, so the removal did not come as a surprise. It was worth it to remind the board that they were voting without having adequately heard and considered input from the public.”

Jones said parents were given a specific time to speak during the meeting, but were told not to speak out at other times. Mims and the other parent left the meeting peacefully, walking beside a Nicholasville police officer who provides security at board meetings.

Earlier at the meeting, Mims had, with permission, brought to the board additional options in a formal presentation that Welch said he would ask board members to review. Mims also advocated for a comprehensive, long-term plan to address future growth.

Nearly 40 residential streets, several business streets and an estimated 108 students appear to have been affected by the option that failed. Growth in the Brannon Crossing area has Rosenwald above capacity, so officials say redistricting is necessary to provide an optimal learning environment. Because of the overcrowding, one section of the Rosenwald library has been turned into a computer lab and another into an instructional area, Jones said.

Rosenwald-Dunbar’s enrollment of 671 is greater than the building capacity of 620. The school also has the fastest-growing subdivision within its attendance boundary and a strong potential for continued growth. Meanwhile, Brookside has a capacity of 630 and an enrollment of 519, the district website said.

The East Jessamine Middle School capacity is 1,000, Jones said, and projected enrollment for 2017-18 is 830. The West Jessamine Middle capacity is 885, but the projected enrollment is 987. The capacity at East Jessamine High School is 966 students; the projected enrollment is 1,025 students. West Jessamine High’s capacity is 918, but the projected 2017-18 enrollment is 1,244 students.

Rapid growth has been a fact of life for Jessamine County for decades. The county’s 2016 population was 52,357, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate released Thursday. That’s an increase of more than 7 percent since 2010.

Enrollment in Jessamine’s public schools has seen similar growth. In 2008-09, enrollment in kindergarten through high school was about 7,600, according to a 2010 comprehensive plan. For the 2016-17 year, enrollment was 8,400 students, an increase of 10.5 percent.

Residential growth has accompanied development of the Brannon Crossing shopping center, which the city of Nicholasville annexed in 2005. But Jessamine saw growth near the Fayette County line years before Brannon Crossing came along.

The next residential growth spurt might come with the East Nicholasville Bypass. That road project will be built in three sections and span 7.4 miles.

Once finished, the four-lane route will complete the loop around Nicholasville and will connect to U.S. 27, the main north-south route through the county.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears