The Shenendehowa Central School District Board of Education will begin analyzing ways to manage district growth that could include a redistricting effort or the construction of a new school.
During its Tuesday meeting, the board received an update from the Shen Futures Committee, which provided some initial insight into what town growth could mean for student population in the Capital Region’s largest school district. Members of the committee include school board members along with district teachers, administrators and others with an interest in the district.
The role of the Shen Futures Committee is to continually assess the potential impact of shifts in the demographic and economic conditions within the communities encompassing the school district, and tie those analyses into future district planning.
The committee has met several times over the past year.
According to district Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson, recommendations made by the Futures Committee by no means represent declarative actions that the district plans on taking.
But, he added, the suggestions and information gathered will play an important role in guiding the board of education to the actions the district will eventually take to deal with growth and redistricting.
“This is an information source, so as we think ahead, we have some information as a basis for initial thinking, and/or possible decision-making,” he said.
Shen has eight elementary schools and three middle schools. The district, Robinson said, ideally keeps enrollment in each elementary school of 550.
Right now, there is one school that has slightly below 400 students, one that has slightly more and 400, a few that are at about the ideal enrollment marker.
Even though long term enrollment at Shen is projected over the next few years to remain stable, according to a study conducted for the district by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, the district is facing an immediate challenge of some schools rapidly approaching the number of students they can comfortably hold.
Redistricting needs to be done before there is a significant imbalance in elementary school enrollment, Robinson said. Another question that needs to be addressed is how a redistricting of elementary schools will affect the middle schools.
“The school district continues to be very attractive to new families. All of these studies are indicating that we should expect growth, not the opposite,” he said.
Shen’s last redistricting move came around nine years ago. A seven-year effort, from conceptual planning to construction, resulted in the creation of Tesago Elementary.
The Futures Committee also suggested that the district consider purchasing land in Halfmoon that will ultimately be home to a new school.
Shen has, for years, talked about purchasing land in Halfmoon. When the school district sold a large plot of vacant land it owned to the town of Clifton Park for $1.1 million, a resolution approved stipulated that the funds from the sale would specifically be used to buy land in Halfmoon for the district.
Robinson said there have been no offers or deals yet as far as land purchasing goes, but added that he expects to have a better idea for what a land purchase might look like by the end of this school year.
“We have been talking to different land owners. We’re not prepared at this point to make a public announcement because we don’t have anything concrete to announce,” he said to the board. “If we’re going to look to purchase land, we need to purchase land not only for what might be what I’m calling midterm needs, the next five to 10 years, but also long term needs, 10 years and beyond, because land is not going be created. Land is going to be used and consumed by other purposes, so how do we capture some developable land?”
Even when the school purchases land, a new school won’t pop up overnight.
Any proposal for a new school would be subject to a referendum and would have to get the go-ahead from both district and state Education Department.
Board member Naomi Hoffman urged the board to officially start talking about redistricting sooner rather than later.
“There are a few things that we know with certainty right now, and that is, in the long term, we don’t see growth, but in the short term, the immediate now, we have schools that are over capacity, and we have schools that are significantly under capacity,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting.
While Robinson agreed that it's a necessary conversation to have, he pointed out that redistricting has, in the past, proven to be an emotionally and politically charged process, and that the board would have more success if it approaches the discussion in a public and deliberate nature.
“I can tell you what we won’t be doing. We don’t be redistricting for September of 2019,” Robinson said. “The more immediate step is to cement some type of property to purchase in the next six to 12 months.”
“I do think though that it’s very forward thinking and smart strategically to say, okay, we’ve got this money in the back that we’re going to use to purchase property. Even if we don’t build the school for 10 years, buying that property now is going to be a heck of a lot cheaper than if we wait five years,” board member Todd Gilbert said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The board is expected to approve the suggestions from the Futures Committee at its May 7 meeting.