Boundaries are up to school board now
By the time Clear Creek's school board got the chance Monday night to weigh in on the proposed school boundaries for next year, Board President Stuart Stromeyer was fed up with the phone calls, the e-mails, the complaints.
Complaints that families would end up with two kids at two high schools. Or that friends would be split up. Or that that sports teams would be split up. The complaints about sports especially exasperated him.
"I've stopped answering e-mails," he told those who showed up to hear the School Boundary Advisory Committee present its recommendations to the school board. "I got sick and tired of hearing about siblings, someone going here and someone going there."
"No one likes change, but everyone knew this was coming."
In fact, they've known boundary changes were coming since they passed a bond issue in 2007 to build another high school. The intent all along has been to alleviate overcrowding at Clear Lake High School, population 3,457, so it wasn't a shock to hear the recommendation that students living in Seabrook Intermediate's zone be sent to the new Clear Falls High School next year instead of Lake. Or even that some of the neighborhoods feeding Clear Creek High School should switch over to Falls.
But figuring that the district's growth is slowing and this will probably be the last high school built here, the School Boundary Advisory Committee also took on the task of thinking ahead so another committee wouldn't have to in a year or two. The committee tried to balance out the populations at all five of the district's full-sized high schools to around 2,500 students each within four years. Which takes some doing. Which affects all the high schools. And about 1 in 4 high school students. And their parents. Many of whom have no fear of public speaking, or at least filling out a comment card.
Board member Ken Baliker served on the last School Boundary Advisory Committee and sympathized with the 28 volunteers who last week wrapped up five public hearings attended by 375 parents and students.
"I know what it's like to not be loved," Baliker assured the committee.
The school board plans to make a decision on the committee's recommendations -- click here for a rundown of the proposed boundary changes -- at its next meeting on Jan. 25, and Monday's workshop was the board's chance to do some homework together.
Some of the board members were particularly interested in math. The board learned, for example, that the recommended boundaries will force the district to come up with another $1.8 million for 33 new bus routes even as it grapples with a $10 million deficit next year.
"That scares the bejeebees out of me," said board member Charles Pond. "We don't have it."
Another perilous task before the board will be deciding who to exempt from the boundary changes. Even parents who acknowledge new boundaries are needed to fill Clear Falls High School and prevent overcrowding at the other schools don't want to see their kids' lives disrupted.
CCISD's policy in the past has been to have incoming juniors and seniors stay at their old schools when a new school opens. But when boundaries are redrawn for reasons unrelated to a school opening -- for instance, moving students from Clear Brook High School to Clear Lake High School so that students living in Whitcomb Elementary's zone are no longer divided between two high schools -- then the practice has been to exempt only seniors. The advisory committee, however, is recommending grandfathering both juniors and seniors at all schools this time around. Otherwise, students moving from Brook to Lake will end up at a school that's still going to be overcrowded for a few more years. The downside to grandfathering so many students, however, is paying for additional bus routes so that a neighborhood's older kids can be taken to one school and younger kids to another.
For intermediate schools, the committee's recommending that the district stick to its longstanding policy of sending all students to the new school but to let incoming 8th graders request a waiver to stay put if they can find their own transportation.
Why not just let everyone finish up at the school they're now attending? That's an option for the board, but the advisory committee's Charlie Wilson pointed out that if there aren't enough students attending the new high school and new intermediate school, it won't be economical to run those schools and they won't be large enough to offer programs comparable to those at the other schools.
Many parents don't want their kids to leave the established sports and music programs at their current schools, but Clear Falls can't grow strong programs itself without a sizable enrollment.
According to CCISD's estimates, for instance, if Clear Falls High School opens with just under 1,200 students as recommended next fall, its band will have around 100 students. That number would drop to just 84 if the school starts out with only 1,000 students. The district's "powerhouse" bands, meanwhile, are about 200 students strong, big enough to compete among the state's top bands.
Board member Dee Scott said programs like band and athletics may not be as crucial as academics but they are important considerations because they contribute to a student's self-worth.
Even so, Scott said she's heard from parents and students excited about getting in on the ground floor of a new school.
"You're not making everyone angry," she told the advisory committee.
But the students and parents of Clear Springs High School -- where the most vocal opposition has emerged -- say they've been there, done that and want to settle in now. And the advisory committee would like the board to allow just that.
Although students living in the Parr Elementary zone are to be switched from Clear Springs to Clear Creek, it was just three years ago that they were pulled from Creek to help populate the brand new Clear Springs. Wilson said those parents and students threw themselves into the challenge of creating booster clubs, sports teams and school spirit from the ground up and it's just too much to ask them to pull out now. So the committee is asking the school board to loosen its transfer policies and give special consideration to the 142 incoming sophomores who may want to stay along with the juniors and seniors.
Currently, Clear Creek ISD allows only 25 to 50 transfers per high school each year, and it's up to each principal to decide how many extra students can be handled without straining the school's capacity or increasing staffing levels. Among the reasons a transfer might be granted under current policy: "hardship difficulties with child care or transportation" as well as course offerings.
As a member of the boundary committee that moved the Parr students to Clear Springs in the first place, however, board member Baliker said he remembers there was discussion of the possibility that I-45 could again become the boundary line and Parr might end up back at Clear Creek. At the time, however, Creek was bursting at the seams and a lot of students were stuck in temporary buildings.
Now that CCISD expects Clear Springs to grow to 3,139 students by 2014, changes must be made, Baliker said.
"The fact is that something is going to need to be done. The question is when."
Stromeyer said his own son had to change elementary schools four times but survived into adulthood.
"Accept it," he said.
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