School Board redistricting talks include middle, high schools

The administrators recommended focusing on proximity of schools to neighborhoods, capacity and developing a pa

Following a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board won't pick up redistricting talks again until May.

The board set a February 2018 goal to redraw attendance zones ahead of James Blair Middle School's September 2018 opening. Board members must tackle the middle school divisions, but are considering high school changes as well to alleviate capacity pressures at Jamestown High School.

Redistricting isn't on their next agenda, for April 18, because there wasn't enough time between the meetings for the division officials to gather additional information requested by the board, chairwoman Kyra Cook (Williamsburg) said.

Going into Tuesday's meeting, school senior administrators from four offices — superintendent, finance, operations and public relations — outlined decisions the school board must make including scope of redistricting, criteria like proximity or capacity, whether to hire a consultant and to what extent, and how to choose that firm.

Scope

Scope was one area the board found some consensus Tuesday.

The six members present — Sandra Young (JCC Berkeley) was absent — agreed not to touch elementary school attendance zones, but agreed to explore the high school possibility.

Jim Kelly (JCC Jamestown) favored taking on the middle schools only and possibly looking at the other levels later, and James Beers (JCC Roberts) agreed with Kelly's reasoning.

"One way (to relieve capacity pressures) is through the CIP (capital improvement plan) and through capital investment, and the other way, if you do have variance in capacity where there's space in some schools and not in others, redistricting is a way to alleviate, and then at least for a number of years presumably save money in terms of capital investment," Cook said.

Optimal capacity is 85 to 88 percent, according to school division documents. This year, Jamestown High School is at 110 percent capacity while Warhill is 90 percent and Lafayette is 88 percent. By 2022, those numbers will be 119, 95 and 93 percent respectively.

In the 2018-27 capital improvement plan, the school board approved a 2019 Jamestown High School expansion and of the other two high schools by 2022, totaling $19.5 million over four years. If board members choose to redistrict high schools also, it's unclear whether they would push back those expansions.

"Even if you do redistrict minimally from Jamestown to Lafayette, at some point you're going to have to expand fairly soon after that, which makes it a hard decision," Superintendent Olwen Herron said.

Criteria

The senior administrators laid out a list of criteria board members could factor into their decision, which was discussed briefly Tuesday night. They did not find consensus on any of the options.

The administrators recommended focusing on proximity of schools to neighborhoods, capacity and developing a pattern of feeder schools.

The fact sheet administrators gave to the board states: "The transition to the next school level can be difficult both academically and socially, and developing feeder patterns often can provide a smoother transition for students and families."

Other possible criteria the board could consider are keeping neighborhoods grouped together, minimizing bus travel, ability to walk to schools, and division-wide socio-economic and ethnic balances.

Some of the criteria tend to work in opposing ways, such as proximity to schools and socio-economic balance, a topic board members Julie Hummel (Williamsburg) and Cook and indicated they want to look into.

Finding consultants

Board members want a full-service consultant to help draw new maps depending on criteria, organize community input and analyze relevant data. The fiscal year 2018 budget approved by the board in March allocated $150,000 to hire a consultant.

The board will solicit proposals for the redistricting contract, which will ask for a range of services to find out what it would cost to redistrict middle and high school versus only middle schools.

Spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said administrators are drawing up a draft request, and their goal is to post it as soon as possible. She didn't have a prediction for when that will be posted.

Redistricting will be on the board's May 2 meeting agenda and for many meetings to come, Cook said.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Next Board meeting:

6:30 p.m. April 18 at the Stryker Center in Williamsburg at 412 N. Boundary St.

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