Fayette redistricting committee makes map adjustments before Thursday forum

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

With a public forum set for Thursday, the Fayette County Public Schools' redistricting committee has made small adjustments to tentative elementary and middle school boundaries.

More changes might be coming, committee chairman Alan Stein said.

At a meeting Tuesday, the committee found that some high-poverty schools would have even more low-income children in their attendance areas as a result of tentative decisions the committee made a few weeks ago.

Breckinridge Elementary went from having 57 percent of residents in its attendance boundaries being eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to 84 percent. The number of residents in Yates Elementary's boundaries who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch changed from 60 percent to 77 percent.

Those numbers led committee member Ron Langley to caution the panel that it should not make worse the socioeconomic imbalances at schools as they redraw boundaries.

"We should do no harm," said Langley, who represents the Fayette Equity Council.

Langley said in an interview that teachers and principals have been telling committee members of the difficulties schools encounter when the overwhelming majority of students come from low-income families.

"Adding to their burden is not going to help kids get better educated," he said.

Under the tentative changes the committee made a few weeks ago, the percentage of low-income students living in Athens- Chilesburg Elementary's assignment area dropped from 21 to 15. At Picadome, it jumped from 30 percent to 64 percent. It rose at Millcreek to 70 percent from 60 percent.

The committee made a few tentative fixes to socioeconomic imbalances at its meeting Tuesday. "We made some improvements," Langley said.

In one example, under the earlier scenario, about 14 percent of students at Veterans Park were low-income, but after the tentative changes made Tuesday, that could rise to 20 percent. Under the earlier scenario, Lansdowne's percentage grew from 61 to 77, but after changes made Tuesday, Lansdowne's assignment area came closer to 55 percent, the district average for low-income students, district attendance analyst Bob Joice said.

Astarre Gudino, a committee member representing the Lexington-Fayette Human Rights Commission who has pressed for more socioeconomic balance, said she was encouraged by the changes made Tuesday.

She said the committee "significantly altered" the percentage of low-income students and the socioeconomic diversity at schools including Lansdowne, Southern and Veterans Park.

Stein said the committee also made some small "common-sense" adjustments to the proposed elementary and middle school boundaries in response to comments from families and other residents.

Fayette County is redrawing attendance boundaries in advance of the openings of two elementary schools in 2016 and a high school in 2017.

The committee wants to give the school board a recommendation by April 1.

Among the tentative changes made Tuesday:

■ The South Point neighborhood would remain at Lansdowne instead of being moved to Southern Elementary.

■ The Waterford subdivision would remain at Southern Elementary instead of moving to Veterans Park.

■ Part of the Trent Boulevard area near Man o' War Boulevard would go to Veterans Park instead of moving from Southern to Millcreek.

■ The Charleston Gardens neighborhood would stay in Millcreek instead of moving to Veterans Park.

■ A small area of Ashland Park would move from Ashland Elementary to Cassidy Elementary. That same area will stay at Morton Middle instead of being moved to Lexington Traditional Magnet Middle School. Stein said the change made sense because Ashland Park was so close to Cassidy and Morton.

The committee is trying to accomplish a lot of goals, Stein said, including curbing overcrowding and achieving socioeconomic balance, "but we also have to use a little bit of common sense."

"The changes we made tonight, all of which were brought to our attention by citizens, ... I hope proves that we really do pay attention to what people are saying to us, good or bad," he said.

However, Stein said, "It doesn't matter how many people are happy with something; an equal number of neighborhoods and people are going to be unhappy."

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