Five of Madison’s public elementary schools have more students than they were designed for, according to district figures. That number will jump to seven by 2018-19.
As a group, though, Madison’s 32 elementary schools are at 87.4 percent capacity, and they’re expected to be at 88.6 percent capacity in 2018-19.
The answer to a few crowded schools seems obvious: Redraw school attendance areas to un-crowd them.
Now, if only anything in the Madison School District could be that easy or quick.
One advantage to redrawing the lines is that it could delay the financial hit of having to build a new school. Some school officials are already talking referendum. Plus, with space available in the district, is there really any good reason any student should be forced to attend class in what was formerly a closet, as some at Sandburg Elementary do?
More troubling is the effect crowding could have on low-income students who, statistically at least, struggle academically and might benefit from better learning environments.
According to data collected by the Department of Public Instruction, 48.9 percent of Madison elementary students were considered “economically disadvantaged” last school year. For the five schools over capacity now, that percentage was 48.4.
But two of those schools are more affluent and are expected to see their enrollments drop below 100 percent capacity by 2018-19. Most of the seven schools expected to be over capacity in 2018-19 serve less affluent areas of Madison, and collectively, the seven had a student population that was 57.8 percent economically disadvantaged last year.
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School Board president Ed Hughes said he’s not committed to a specific strategy for addressing crowding but that “in general ... we should explore all avenues of addressing problems through reasonable boundary changes before we consider bricks-and-mortar solutions and a possible building referendum.”
A district spokeswoman released a vague statement saying this year’s school capacity report was similar to past years’ reports.
The district has “immediate and long-term issues that need to be addressed through careful planning,” it said. “Our primary focus is on providing stability for our students.”
Stability is good, but adequate learning facilities are better — even if boundary changes tend to upset those parents whose kids are forced to switch schools.
That is the biggest hurdle to redrawing attendance areas, said Carol Carstensen, who spent 18 years on the School Board and went through about 10 major redraws. No redrawing is minor, she said, because “people are extremely attached to their schools.”
Admittedly, my family is lucky to live in an attendance area whose elementary school is at 69 percent capacity, so my kids probably wouldn’t be forced to move. On the other hand, I went to three schools by the age of 10, and I turned out normal (mostly). Children can be more resilient than we give them credit for.
Madison is a city that loves its public schools and values the collective welfare. Accepting that a few families will move to different elementary schools would probably benefit both.