The Grade Blog

Monday, Oct 14 2013 10:00 PM

Charter school, new boundaries considered at Panama-Buena Vista

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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

A new elementary charter school is one of the options the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District is considering to ease overcrowding on some campuses.

Panama wants to revise its school attendance boundaries in an effort to even out a district where some schools are overcrowded and others are underutilized.

The southwest Bakersfield district presented three draft maps for review Monday night at the first of three community forums it is holding over several weeks.

"These are just concepts. That's all they are," Superintendent Kevin Silberberg said. "Please don't go home and tell your friends that you saw the future map of the district. It's not here. It's not in this room."

Panama expects to refine the maps in coming weeks as it looks for the best way to balance competing interests, Silberberg said.

All of the proposals have pros and cons that must be weighed, he said.

At the community forums, staff and consultants will be on hand to explain the rationale behind the maps and answer questions.

Parents who can't attend the forums can read about the proposals and take a survey on the district's website, www.pbvusd.k12.ca.us.

The so-called "charter school" plan would open a new charter school and convert the district's seventh- and eighth-grade junior high schools to middle schools that would also serve sixth-graders.

That proposal would leave four of the district's 18 elementary schools critically overcrowded, and would increase enrollment at all four junior high schools.

The "growth attendance" plan would do the best job of managing future growth over the next decade, but would mean a lot of students would be bused to schools outside their neighborhoods, according to the district.

Under that plan, 10 elementary schools would remain critically overcrowded, and one junior high school would be overcrowded, but not critically.

The "neighborhood schools" plan would allow the largest number of children to attend schools within walking distance of their homes, but wouldn't be as effective at evening out school enrollment.

The proposal would reduce diversity, leave eight elementary schools critically overcrowded, and leave one junior high school overcrowded, but not critically.

The California Department of Education considers a school overcrowded if a campus has more than one student per 50 square-feet. Among other things, the state is wary of schools that don't have enough space for physical education.

This year's boundary review process is slower and more transparent than one that caused an uproar last year.

In May the board of trustees mothballed a proposal very similar to this year's "growth attendance" plan because parents complained they didn't have enough time to learn about it or offer any feedback.

This time, the district is bending over backward to make sure the community has an opportunity to weigh in.

Mother of four Angela Frehner, 40, said she thinks this year's process is greatly improved.

"It's a lot more open, and there's more information," she said. "I think they're making good progress and moving in the right direction."

Mother of four Lindsay Whitezell, 33, is looking forward to eliminating the uncertainty hanging over her children's heads.

"Last year I felt like there wasn't a lot of notice given, not enough information handed out ahead of time, not enough time to process," she said.

At the same time, Whitezell said she was "kind of upset" that the board backed away from revising its boundaries in May because it meant another year for her children to attend a school that they might be transferred from in the future.

Parent Wendy Terrell, 33, has a kindergartener and isn't sure yet which plan she's rooting for.

"Each one has good parts and bad parts," she said. "They just need to take the best from each one and put them together."

The next two forums are Oct. 28 at Tevis Junior High School and Nov. 4 at Miller Elementary School.

The district's Boundary Review Committee of educators and parents will make a recommendation to the school board on Nov. 12. The board is scheduled to vote on the lead proposal on Dec. 10.

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