Lack of socioeconomic balance still a concern for some on Fayette schools redistricting panel

The redistricting committee presented a summary of its proposals during a public meeting Tuesday.
The redistricting committee presented a summary of its proposals during a public meeting Tuesday. Herald-Leader

Although the Fayette County Public Schools redistricting committee has presented its final recommendation to the public, a subgroup is expected to tell the school board next week that more could be done to achieve socioeconomic balance in schools.

Redistricting committee member Ron Langley, who represents the Fayette Equity Council, said some members of the redistricting committee expect to present a report Tuesday at a meeting with the board about "what we think we could have done better in terms of balancing socioeconomic status."

It won't be a formal dissenting opinion, but it will be a discussion of what the district can do to have a better mix of family incomes at a given school if board members choose, Langley said.

"What I don't want to do is to give the impression that we are fractured in some way as a committee," said Langley. "We agreed to this report as is."

But he said some members of the 23-member panel would have liked to have seen a different outcome on socioeconomic balance. Langley said he was analyzing numbers he will present to the school board.

By Langley's count, Fayette County has four schools where less than 25 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch and about 14 schools where that population is 75 percent or more.

Langley said the redistricting committee plan improved socioeconomic balance at some elementary and middle schools, but not significantly.

The committee presented its recommendations this week. Redistricting is needed because two new elementary schools will open in 2016 and a sixth high school will open 2017. The school board can make changes to the recommendations.

One of the guiding principles the school board gave the committee was to use student socioeconomic status as a primary consideration in the assignment of neighborhoods to schools.

But many people in Lexington balked at that, saying they didn't want their children to go to low-achieving, high-poverty schools.

Committee members had discussions during the yearlong process in which they said they could not fix poverty in Lexington as they redrew school attendance boundaries. They did not want to bus children across town to achieve socioeconomic balance.

Langley said Tuesday night he was not yet comfortable discussing schools or neighborhoods where changes could be made, but he and others expect to do that Tuesday.

He acknowledged there's a chance that by making a few changes to the committee's recommendations, school board members could be faced with several other adjustments.

In response to Langley's concerns about socioeconomic balance, redistricting committee chairman Alan Stein said committee members who want more socioeconomic balance "have every right" to talk to school board members.

"No plan is perfect," Stein said, "and this one hit on as many notes as we could hit on. ... You start tweaking and you blow everything up."

School board member Daryl Love, who was a member of the redistricting committee, said the board could make changes to the plan or send it back to the committee, but the board hasn't discussed it as a team.

The redistricting committee did make several recommendations to improve socioeconomic balance or equity at schools. They include:

■ Bryan Station High School could house a technology magnet program. Because Bryan Station has the lowest enrollment among high schools, the committee hopes that would attract students from around the district, affecting overall capacity, and free and reduced-price lunch numbers.

■ Crawford Middle School could house an arts magnet program. It would give more students who are artistically gifted the chance to participate in a program. The initiative might alleviate overcrowding in other schools and improve the free and reduced-price lunch ratio as well.

■ Low-performing, high-poverty schools should have full-time family resource centers and personnel.

■ Full-time preschools should be operated in or near high-poverty, low-performing schools. At the very minimum, there should be enough spots in the district's preschool programs to accommodate all 4-year-olds receiving free and reduced-price lunch so they enter kindergarten with appropriate academic skills.

■ Schools with greater parent involvement and lower free and reduced-price lunch numbers are encouraged to establish partnerships with other schools for fundraising and volunteering.

■ Smaller class sizes in low-performing, high-poverty schools on all levels would allow more instruction for students who are performing below grade level.

Love said that once the school board has a final plan, members can decide where funding needs to go to provide more equity for students.

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