Hanover school redistricting plan in limbo

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Schools don’t yet exceed capacity threshold

The topic of adjusting school boundaries has loomed over the Hanover school division since July, when Cold Harbor board member Norman Sulser recommended the board discuss the issue and consider moving hundreds of students from older crowded schools to newer, less full buildings. Eight months later, the board has not decided whether redistricting will become a reality.

Sulser

Sulser

Shortly after Sulser’s suggestion, the board directed school officials to review capacities, student enrollment and the physical status of each school, a process that ended recently.  The board decided at its Jan. 16 meeting that they would revisit the issue after the budget was approved and on its way to the board of supervisors.

Sulser’s plan would move students from schools at 90 percent capacity and above to Hanover High School, which is at 76 percent capacity.

“If you took 100 from Lee-Davis and 100 from Atlee, then all schools would be at about 80 percent capacity,” Sulser said.

Lee-Davis is at 95 percent capacity.

He described the plan, in a recent interview, as “short range-long range,” because they would also try to catch the problem early on at feeder schools.

Sulser would like to see fifth grade students at Kersey Creek Elementary moved to Oak Knoll Middle School, because it is a fairly new building with fewer students.  Right now, Oak Knoll’s capacity is around 75 percent.

“I’m more into fixing the problem rather than the blame,” Sulser said.

Sulser acknowledged, in recent interviews, that this is a sensitive topic in the division.

“It’s not an all or nothing deal,” he said.

But a policy that the board has often adhered to in the past states that an institution is only at full capacity if it reaches 120 percent for three consecutive years.

“Until we change this definition, I do not feel we can justify a redistricting,” said Sue Dibble, South Ann District board member.

Chairman Bob Hundley Jr., Chickahominy District representative, echoed these sentiments at a budget town hall meeting Monday night.

“In my way of looking at it, capacity is 100 percent and if you’re under then you’re in the 90s, 80s, 70s,” Hundley said.

He said he does not feel that there’s “a push or urgency” for a redistricting.

But not all board members feel the standard should dictate whether or not a school is overcrowded.

“If you think I’m going to wait until they’re at 120 percent, I’m not,” said Hank Lowry Jr., Ashland District representative.

He worries that by that time, it may be too late to solve any problems.

Lowry said — speaking only on his own behalf — that he would like the board to review the study and data, then figure out the best plan of action.

The problem, in his opinion, is not exactly with capacity.

“It’s relocation of assets because assets are not being used properly,” Lowry said.

If the times came for redistricting, Lowry said his goal would be to try and equalize all schools.  He agrees with Sulser’s plan of starting early at feeder schools rather than when students are at the high school level.

“We don’t want to break up friendships or any of that stuff, “ Lowry said.

However, not all board members have chosen a side regarding this issue. Earl Hunter Jr., Henry District representative, said he would remain neutral until the school board discusses it. At the earliest, the board could be discussing school boundaries and whether or not a change is needed at either its March 11 or 25 workshop.

“I’m trying not to form too much of an opinion until we have a full discussion on it,” Hunter said.

Some board members feel that the public took the subject of redistricting by the reigns regardless of the fact that the school board has not officially discussed the matter.

Dibble said she feels that discussions regarding school boundaries spurred from the facilities assessment and that “the bigger picture” was missed.

“I believe the study indicated that a few of our schools are approaching capacity but most are not,” Dibble said.

If the topic was brought to the table, Dibble said the public is key to any discussions regarding redistricting, but it hasn’t yet reached that stage.

“We haven’t even asked the question — ‘Hey, do we want to look at redistricting?’” she said.

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