Fayette County school redistricting committee seeks 'simplest solution,' chairman says

Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington. Herald-Leader

Months away from redrawing school attendance zones, Fayette County's redistricting committee focused attention Thursday night on what the chairman called the "simplest solution": the one with the fewest adjustments to the way neighborhoods are assigned to Lexington's high schools.

Committee members, in reviewing scenarios presented by a California-based demographics company, also seemed interested in a proposal that brought more balance between the number of students who pay for their lunch and those who get free and reduced-price lunches at the high schools. Under one scenario, Bryan Station would have fewer students who receive free and reduced lunch, Henry Clay would have slightly more, and about half the students attending a new high school on Winchester Road would receive free and reduced lunch. Socioeconomic balance is one of the committee's goals.

The redistricting committee met in Paul Laurence Dunbar High School's library. Chairman Alan Stein said the committee could start meeting weekly until a plan is presented to the school board, probably in the spring. The next meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the district's Central Office, 701 East Main Street. The district last initiated wide-scale redistricting in 2002.

Attendance zone changes will be implemented when two new elementary schools open in 2016 — one on Georgetown Road and the other off Polo Club Boulevard — and the new high school opens in 2017. About 20 of the committee's 30 or so members attended the meeting, at which several scenarios were discussed for redrawing high school attendance boundaries. The committee will look at the boundaries for elementary schools next, followed by boundaries for middle schools.

"Everybody in Lexington ... thinks they are going to be affected by redistricting. The reality is that's not even remotely true," Stein said. He said it was more likely that 10 percent or fewer of families would be affected, and one-third of those would be reassigned because of the new schools. "We want to find the simplest solution," he said.

But Stein acknowledged that the committee was faced with a complex problem. The committee is trying to keep students at schools close to their homes and maintain socioeconomic balance. It also is trying to reduce transportation costs and keep elementary school students together so they generally attend the same middle and high schools.

Overcrowding at Henry Clay High School, which has about 300 too many students, will be eased naturally because the new school on Winchester Road is relatively close, Stein said. "Dunbar, not so naturally," he said.

The committee discussed what it would mean to move some homes now assigned to Dunbar, which is also overcrowded by about 300 students, to other high schools, including Lafayette and Bryan Station. Bryan Station is considered low-performing academically but has made some recent improvements.

Stein said some of the scenarios reviewed Thursday were "virtually painless."

"I don't think we are going to land on those, but it gives us a road map of how we can reduce some of the concerns so many people in the community have," he said.

Parents have told the Herald-Leader they worry about the possibility that their homes will be reassigned to other schools, especially if those schools are perceived as having low academic achievement. Stein said he had heard that some people were waiting to buy homes until the plan is in place.

"We think our pace is not quick enough," he said. "People are telling us in the real estate market that it's just come to a halt, people wanting to hear about this."

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