School board approves redistricting criteria

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Willamsburg-James City County School Board members finalized criteria on Tuesday they want considered as redistricting plans move forward.

In no particular order, they said utilization, proximity, socioeconomic status, neighborhood concept and longevity should all be considered.

“They all need to be considered,” said board member Lisa Ownby.

That set of criteria will be used to create new maps for the district’s middle and high schools.

In July, board members unanimously voted to hire California-based consulting firm Cooperative Strategies to redraw boundaries for the area’s middle and high schools.

Middle school maps have to change: The district has to plan for the new James Blair Middle School, which will open next September.

Board members have not yet voted to redistrict high schools. Two of them refused to vote on allowing Cooperative Strategies staff to even create prospective maps.

Board members Jim Kelly and Sandra Young abstained from voting on the high school criteria. Both believe redistricting high schools could exacerbate the district’s capacity issues.

“This keeps it going another few months, which I believe is unnecessary to our high school’s seniors,” Kelly said.

Buildings are intended to be 88 percent full, and in 2016-17, Lafayette was at that threshold. At 90 percent and 110 percent, both Warhill and Jamestown were over capacity.

Board members have said redistricting now could have all three schools hovering at about 98 percent capacity, meaning another redistricting effort in a few years’ time.

Four board members voted to have the consulting firm draw new high school maps.

Ownby and board Chairwoman Kyra Cook thought the board had an obligation to draw new maps for both middle and high schools.

“We don’t have anything in a (capital improvement plan) indicating that we will get new space,” Cook said. “The most prudent thing to do is try to move forward.”

At a future meeting, Cooperative Strategies staff will present those maps to the board and the public. The board will also hold a public hearing to get more community input.

Superintendent Olwen Herron has said the district wants to be finished with the redistricting process by February 2018.

Bus drivers

Dozens of residents came out in support of the district’s bus drivers, who say low salaries are at the root of the district’s issues in finding and retaining bus drivers.

At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, district spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said the district needed 22 more bus drivers.

Speakers told the board one of the reasons drivers leave is because of low pay relative to competitors, including the Willamsburg Area Transit Authority and York County.

Board member Julie Hummel acknowledged the issue is tied to funding and said she would be open to looking at how to increase drivers’ salaries.

“It’s something we should seriously consider doing,” she said.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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