The Madison School District should proceed with building additions and renovations, not boundary changes, to alleviate crowding in schools, according to a district report.
While several schools are operating at or above 100 percent of their capacity, researchers say changing school boundaries isn’t the answer to capacity concerns.
The Research & Program Evaluation Office studied the hypothetical possibility of moving students from crowded schools to others in the district and took into account six considerations the School Board adopted in 2007 when evaluating boundary changes.
These considerations include reasonable bus routes, a rule to keep students from moving schools more than once in five years, grandfathering fourth and fifth grades, desirable school size, avoiding low-income concentrations and keeping neighborhoods intact.
The report studied the possibility of moving some students between schools: Sandburg to Mendota; Midvale and Van Hise to Thoreau; Hamilton to Cherokee; Hawthorne to Lowell; and Kennedy to Allis.
Each proposed boundary change except one, Hamilton to Cherokee, failed to live up to the six-consideration framework, leading researchers to conclude that future long-term facilities solutions will be “more comprehensive, less politically controversial and less challenging for MMSD students and families than changing school attendance boundaries,” according to the report.
The district is proposing $27 million in additions and renovations at several schools to address crowding and other issues. Over the next several weeks it plans to seek feedback from the public.
At its Monday meeting, the School Board briefly debated the merits of using boundary changes instead of renovations.
Board President Ed Hughes echoed concerns of other members when he called the report “overly hostile to boundary changes.”
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District staff said the report recommended against boundary changes because the hypothetical alternatives either failed to keep neighborhoods intact, concentrated low-income students or created undesirable school populations.
But Hughes said that aside from renovations necessary to make Kennedy Elementary School compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a proposed boundary change between Kennedy and Allis elementary schools made sense to him.
Board members, including Hughes, softened on continuing boundary discussions after hearing input from board member James Howard.
Howard said he was in favor of a high bar for redrawing boundaries because of factors that stretch outside school buildings.
“There are things that go on with boundary changes that impact families … I’ve lived though that impact and there’s a lot more impact on kids for years after boundary changes,” he said.
Aside from boundary discussions, several board members questioned whether a renovating strategy would be in conflict with long-term goals in a district filled with aging buildings.
The renovation spending may go to referendum in the spring.
State Journal reporter Jeff Glaze contributed to this report.