The Grade Blog

Tuesday, May 14 2013 10:47 PM

Panama-Buena Vista mothballs new school boundaries

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    By Courtenay Edelhart / The Californian

    Berkshire Elementary School is Panama-Buena Vista Union School District's most overcrowded school with more than 1,000 students. Some other elementary schools in the district have half as many. The district has revised attendance boundaries in order to even out the distribution of students.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Urged by parents who said the effort to redraw school boundaries had been rushed through with inadequate public input, the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District Tuesday put off indefinitely a vote on a proposed new attendance map.

Staff members need "time to read every letter, every note, and listen to those voices," said board member Dee Whitley.

District administrators had asked the board to consider new boundaries to accommodate growth in the southwest. Panama-Buena Vista has grown 16 percent over the last eight years from 15,032 students in 2005 to 17,473 as of May 1.

Under the plan, junior high school lines would have been unchanged, but 14 of the district's 18 elementary schools would have had new boundaries starting in 2013-14. The only elementary school boundaries that weren't changing were for Castle, Loudon, Sandrini and Van Horn.

The plan would have affected about 1,400 students, or roughly 8 percent of the district.

Parent Jeff Tkac said the democratic process had worked.

"I know there are a lot of details and not everybody is going to be made happy, but I think there needs to be more due diligence for the process to work," he said.

Under current boundaries, some schools are underused and others are overcrowded. The district's smallest school, McAuliffe Elementary, has 496 students and the largest, Berkshire Elementary, has 1,037.

The boundary change would have distributed students more evenly.

There isn't much time to resolve the issue. The school year is over at the end of this month, and classes resume Aug. 19.

District administrators warned that barring a redistribution of students, the district would have to spend upwards of $750,000 for new portable classrooms at overcrowded schools, compared with just $70,000 in additional transportation costs had the plan been approved.

In the absence of new boundaries, students are going to have to change schools, anyway, because schools that are enrolled past their capacity are going to have to detour overflow to other campuses, they said.

Parent Elizabeth Howard, who lives in the McAuliffe Elementary School area, said she didn't buy the argument that failing to pass the plan would result in high portable classroom expenses.

"I know that at my school, anyway, we can accommodate any new children that they bring us without bringing in portables," she said.

Board member Cheryl Palla, alone in advocating that the board move ahead with the new map, said putting off the vote wouldn't resolve any complaints because some parents would still be unhappy whenever the board voted.

"It will continue to go on for months and months and months," she said.

Critics of the proposal said the plan didn't do enough to preserve bonds between classmates and neighbors, and didn't give sufficient consideration to making sure students who went to elementary school together also went to junior high school together.

Teachers are wary of a prolonged debate because they want to know where they will be assigned.

After the meeting, the president of the Panama-Buena Vista Teachers Union said she was pleased that the board had at least decided to move ahead with teacher transfer requests, which had previously been delayed in order to factor in the outcome of Tuesday's boundary vote.

"We had expected more teacher movement over the next two weeks," said Lauri Hoffernan, who teaches at Old River Elementary. "There will be less teacher movement now, just based on the openings in the district."

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