Education

Fayette Schools redistricting committee passionately debates 'inequity' and Stuart Hall neighborhoood

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

A passionate discussion between members of Fayette County Public Schools' redistricting committee unfolded Thursday about a southeast Lexington neighborhood whose residents have been among the most vocal in Lexington.

[Related story: Fayette schools redistricting becomes contentious as neighborhoods organize]

It occurred when committee member David O'Neill suggested that the committee fix an "inequity" for some residents of the Stuart Hall neighborhood, whose children he said have to pass three closer schools to get to Breckinridge Elementary, to which they are assigned. Residents of the neighborhood have attended most redistricting meetings wearing red T-shirts as a sign of solidarity.

Some Stuart Hall neighbors have been upset that their homes are assigned to Breckinridge, which is classified as needs improvement/progressing, instead of the closer Athens-Chilesburg Elementary, which is classified as distinguished/progressing and high performing. Some residents have asked to be reassigned to a planned new elementary school off Polo Club Boulevard.

After O'Neill said, "This is our time to make it right and level the playing field a little bit," Astarre' Gudino, who represents the Lexington Fayette Human Rights Commission on the committee, said that she took exception to the word "inequity" in regard to the neighborhood's concern.

"The problem is that their child is going to a school that they don't like. The problem is that their children are going to school with ... children ... that they feel that they shouldn't have to go to school with. It isn't necessarily that it's 4 miles away."

O'Neill, Fayette County's property valuation administrator, said he apologized if he offended anyone by using the word "inequity" to describe the situation with Stuart Hall.

After the meeting, he said neighbors in Stuart Hall have "been good sports ... they did what was asked of them. Now is our opportunity to give them a better situation."

Vicky Walters, a resident in Stuart Hall, said she had been to virtually every redistricting meeting and was "disappointed" by the exchange about Stuart Hall. Walters said Gudino's perceptions were inaccurate. She said parents in Stuart Hall want their children to go to a closer school and their problems are not with other children who currently attend Breckinridge.

Other people who attended Thursday's meeting at the district's Central Office included residents who were concerned that their children might be reassigned away from Wellington.

Karen McNees, who lives in the Willow Bend neighborhood near Man o' War Boulevard near Nicholasville Road, said she didn't get a lot of information about whether her neighborhood would remain assigned to the high-achieving Wellington school, but she was optimistic because she thought committee members were careful to explore all angles.

She said she was encouraged to hear committee members talk about maintaining neighborhood schools and causing the least disruption to families.

McNees said she was concerned, however, to hear committee chairman Alan Stein say that if every child in Fayette County went to the closest schools, Wellington would have 1,163 students.

The Kentucky Department of Education recommends 650 students for an elementary school. Additionally, if every child in Fayette County went to the closest public school, Russell Cave Elementary in north Lexington would have only 42 students, Stein said.

Stein said that the committee also wanted to add the concept of grandfathering to the guiding principles that the committee will use to develop the redistricting plan. That means, Stein said, that one goal among many would be that if a child is attending a specific school, they would be allowed to continue at that school under the new redistricting plan. Other principles are having children attend the schools closest to their homes; preventing overcrowding; and achieving socioeconomic balance.

Also, Stein said he thought the committee would recommend that the Academy of Information Technology at Bryan Station High School would become a magnet program to draw more students there.

Bryan Station High has been designated by the Kentucky Department of Education as a persistently low achieving or priority school, although it has been recently making academic progress.

The district is redrawing school boundaries for the first time in a decade because of construction of a high school and two elementary schools. In August 2016, the district is scheduled to open one new elementary school east of Interstate 75 off Polo Club Boulevard and another off Georgetown Road. In August 2017, a new high school will open on Winchester Road.

Stein said the redistricting committee hoped to give the school board a proposed plan by March. The redistricting committee will meet next at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the central office, 701 East Main Street, Conference Room C.

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