Boundary study narrowing options down to two

The School District of Lancaster’s far-reaching school boundary study is—for the moment—narrowing its analysis to two possible scenarios: realigning elementary boundaries to balance class sizes across the district and improve walkability or aligning elementary boundaries with middle school boundaries.

Planners are responding to community feedback in narrowing the options. The district sent postcards to more than 28,000 households and businesses, held community meetings in each of the city’s four quadrants and are following opinion trends on ThoughtExchange, an online feedback tool. To date, more than 270 community members have participated in the online discussion.

Consultants working with the district presented to the school board on Nov. 12.

“Our goal is to continue engaging more stakeholders, through in person meetings and using our online tools,” said Matthew Przywara, the district’s chief financial officer. “We also want to make sure our feedback is representative of our community’s demographics.”

In explaining the options, Przywara emphasized that the district is evaluating the best method of phasing in any changes, which would not begin until the 2021-2022 school year.

The first option would balance class sizes and optimize walking distances for students. It would also allow the district to eliminate modular classrooms currently in use at schools such as Hamilton Elementary and Wheatland Middle School.

Key outcome: All schools in the district would have enrollment numbers between 80 and 90 percent of building capacity, based on a classroom size of 25 students. Currently, schools like Lafayette and Martin are at or over capacity; schools like Wharton and Carter & MacRae are at less than 80 percent capacity.

See possible new boundaries in plan 1

The second option would create an elementary-to-middle school feeder system, ensuring that no students from one elementary school go to separate middle schools. Though it would not optimize enrollments in buildings, it would make improvements.

Key outcome: All students would transition with their elementary school class to the same middle school. Currently, some students separate from their classmates and attend different middle schools.

See possible new boundaries in plan 2

In both scenarios:

  • Between 400 and 500 students living in a rezoned area would ultimately attend a different middle school.
  • About 90 percent of elementary students would live within a mile of school, including 57 percent of students living within a half mile. Currently, about 89% of students live within a mile of their elementary school, excluding transfer and continuation students.

Based on task force recommendations, the district plans to continue soliciting stakeholder feedback in coming weeks. Also, once proposed boundaries are established, the district can begin studying new transportation patterns to maximize efficiencies in busing.

The task force aims to have a full, final recommendation to the school board for consideration in February.