Verona Area School District elementary schools will remain kindergarten through fifth grade after the attendance boundaries change for the 2020-21 school year.
School board members agreed Tuesday night that Option D1, which would have had Sugar Creek and Country View partner with one housing grades K-2 and the other 3-5, was not feasible.
That leaves two options for debate this summer, known as A1 and E. Discussion is expected to continue Tuesday.
The concerns were mostly about transportation costs, but some board members echoed staff concerns about changes in programming that would be required with such a shift.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re making a choice based on academic achievement for students,” said board member Amy Almond. “That’s kind of where the hiccup comes for me.”
Administrators estimated it would cost an extra $385,000 for busing with the split grades plan – roughly equal to five full-time staff members.
“If you told any site that you were suddenly giving them five extra FTE, I’m pretty sure that would make a pretty big dent,” said Kristina Navarro-Haffner.
The remaining two options are both generally similar to current maps.
Option A1 would mostly unify the Verona Road-area neighborhoods and move about 20 percent of K-5, non-Two Way Immersion and non-charter students. Option E would move fewer students, about 11.3 percent of K-5, non-TWI and non-charter students, but would more purposefully put Country View over capacity immediately in anticipation of the district building another elementary school within about five years.
The need for a referendum to build that elementary school has been a concern for some on the board.
The boundaries will go into effect when the new high school opens. At that point, Badger Ridge Middle School and the charter schools will shift to the current high school building and Sugar Creek Elementary School will shift to the current BRMS building — adding capacity for both of the attendance area schools.
The board is expected to begin making slight alterations to address the remaining concerns – neighborhood by neighborhood, if desired – to one or both of those plans at its next meeting, Tuesday, June 25. Consultant Mark Roffers came to the June 18 meeting with variations of both, The variation on Option E would improve the elementary schools’ diversity balance from today’s maps and the update to Option A1 would lower the number of students that would change schools.
“This is not to say this ought to be the option that you … approve,” Roffers said. “It’s just to show that we can sort of tweak an option that had pretty low movement in such a way to address some of the pitfalls.”
That revelation led board members to agree, as Meredith Stier Christensen said, that either Option A1 or E can be tweaked “in such a way that it would be better than D1 no matter what.”
Even Deborah Biddle, who was joining the meeting by phone and had said D1 was her top option, became comfortable taking it off the table.
“I actually like that option except for the increased bus cost,” Biddle said. “It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on, but that was my first choice for the options if not for the bus cost.”
Board members seemed to agree with Roffers that the two options still on the table are similar.
Each would have some imbalance with diversity and would have at least one elementary school over capacity from the start – a challenge in every plan the Attendance Area Advisory Committee considered.
Option A1 would have Glacier Edge Elementary School above capacity when the new boundaries first went into effect, with 490 students compared to the recommended capacity of 427. That’s still more than 100 students below what it had this year.
Under that plan, between 23 and 30 percent of students at all schools would get free or reduced lunches, and all schools would have between 26 and 41 percent students of color.
Option E would have both GE and CV over capacity in 2020, in anticipation of a new elementary school on the district’s southern end, likely on the Herfel property the district already owns on the southeast side of Verona. That would require a successful referendum to build, which has given some pause over the plan.
Under that option, Stoner Prairie Elementary School would have 47 percent students of color, with the other schools all between 30 and 35 percent.
The variations Roffers presented Tuesday aimed at addressing those concerns, as his Option E variation would bring Stoner Prairie down to 43 percent students of color and no other school below 31 percent.
The board is expected to suggest individual neighborhood movements within the remaining plans next week and have Roffers immediately show how each change would affect enrollment and diversity numbers.
Grade split out
Option D1 would have solved some of the diversity imbalances by sending K-2 students to one school and grade 3-5 students to another.
But principals of those two schools expressed concerns about the programs they have built and planning.
Sugar Creek principal Todd Brunner told the board having only grades K-2 or 3-5 would eliminate many of the leadership programs his school has built in at the elementary level, from safety patrol and announcements to classroom buddies and multiage classrooms.
“It gives older kids a chance to be leaders with younger kids, and it has paid off so much, just watching the relationships build,” Brunner said.
He and Country View principal Michelle Nummerdor said the change would require a major overhaul of curriculum and planning, as well, and could make it harder to reach families they already struggle to connect with.
“Everything is built for a K-5,” Brunner said. “A K-2, 3-5 would suddenly necessitate a ground-to-ceiling relooking.”
That, plus staff feedback with concerns about the proposal and the cost, brought board members into quick agreement they could do better.
“I think on its face, D met the criteria in a way that we wanted it to balance the tradeoffs,” board president Noah Roberts said. “I am concerned about the fiscal impact, and I’m concerned about the staffing uncertainty. I’m concerned about adding another layer of disruption in transition.
“I want to applaud the committee for thinking outside the box, because I know that our district is a difficult set of circumstances to work with.”