The Schenectady City School District Board of Education is taking on a new controversial task: changing the school attendance zones.
A redistricting committee is already beginning to look at current attendance data, and a demographer is studying the city to estimate where future students will live.
In January, the school board intends to vote on new zones that take effect in fall 2016, when the district intends to open Oneida Middle School, close Elmer Elementary School and reopen Central Park Middle School after relocating the K-5 students there now.
School officials acknowledged the redistricting will be controversial. They may make public the committee meetings on the topic and said they would “welcome and embrace” anyone who wanted to join the redistricting committee. There are already seven or eight parents on the committee, representing different areas and grade levels, said Lori McKenna, district director of planning and accountability.
Maps will soon be posted on the school website showing the data the district has now. They will be interactive, so the public can move blocks of students into different schools to create their own zones. The “blocks” are, in essence, a grouping of streets that make up a neighborhood.
“We want to keep students in their neighborhood schools so there’s that connection to community,” McKenna said.
Superintendent Laurence Spring added that school officials will hold a public meeting to get input on the borders for those blocks.
“The community input will help us verify that,” he said.
Before that meeting, the committee will also begin studying options for redistricting. Then there will be a community forum, at the end of September, at which block borders and redistricting options can be discussed.
The board is expected to receive a draft redistricting plan in November, giving it two months to consider before making a final decision.
The “ideal” redistricting will have three sections per grade level in each building, although some buildings are too small. Those might be slated for additions in the next phase of the capital project, McKenna said.
She’s hoping for a much more organized district, in which zones are “sustainable” so every parent knows what schools their children will attend. Currently that’s not the case — some zones, like the one for Elmer, have so many children that 100 or more students must be sent to other schools.
Still, moving children to new schools isn’t popular. Spring said the board should craft policies before complaints come in, deciding what sorts of exceptions should be granted.
In other business, the board said goodbye to longtime member Ron Lindsay, who chose not to run for re-election. Wednesday was his final meeting. He and his wife have put their house up for sale and hope to move to Maryland to be closer to their children — and especially their grandchildren, Lindsay said.
He was first appointed to the board in 1984. It was to be a “temporary” position, though Lindsay laughed as he recalled that.
He stayed on the board until 1991, then returned with a slate of candidates determined to bring transparency and responsiveness to the board in 2010.
Lindsay has lived in the city since 1969. He said it would be very hard to leave — but the grandchildren are tugging.
“It’s really hard, because I really committed to the school district,” he said. “But it’s time.”