Some students across Muscogee County could be reassigned to different schools if the district implements the rezoning it is proposing.
Central Region chief James Wilson presented the idea, which superintendent David Lewis calls “spot rezoning,” during the school board’s recent retreat, but the district hasn’t released any documents to clearly explain this proposal, leaving much still unknown.
In addition, the school district hasn’t responded to the Ledger-Enquirer’s request for the number of students or the names of the schools that would be affected by the rezoning.
The rezoning has three main goals, according to the information presented at the retreat: make room for growth in north Columbus; more efficiently use space in south Columbus; and accommodate the impact of the August opening of the new Spencer High School, which is being constructed on Fort Benning Road.
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The school board will be asked to approve any rezoning, Lewis said. Before that, he said, the district will conduct public forums to explain the proposal and receive feedback.
“I’d like to hear how the community feels about it,” he said.
The dates of the forums are not yet available.
Growth in North Columbus
School district officials want to make room for more growth in elementary schools such as Double Churches, Mathews and North Columbus, where some grade levels don’t have space for additional students. Some students who moved into those attendance zones this school year were assigned instead to schools farther away from their homes because of the lack of space.
For example, Wilson said, some students who live three blocks from Double Churches are assigned to North Columbus, and their parents say they don’t understand why they must fight traffic to get to North Columbus when they could go to the closer school.
“We need to look not just at their attendance issues now but what they’re going to be in the next couple of years,” Wilson said.
Wilson said MCSD hasn’t determined the “exact streets and neighborhoods” that would be affected by the rezoning.
Lewis added, “We also want to talk with the city planners to see what’s planned as far as developments in the future, … so we don’t cause a rolling multiyear rezoning. We want to do it right the first time.”
Low enrollments in South Columbus
Cusseta Road and Muscogee elementary schools were closed four years ago and consolidated into Dorothy Height Elementary School.
“It was a simple plan, it was an easy transition, but four years in now, we’re seeing that it wasn’t the best plan,” Wilson said.
The problem is that some schools have enrollments less than what the state requires for them to be fully funded. For example, Wilson said, St. Marys Road Magnet Academy has capacity for more than 500 students but has less than 400.
Rezoning will make room for Dorothy Height to add pre-kindergarten classes, taking two of the seven from South Columbus, and help fill spaces elsewhere, Wilson said.
“We may wind up getting not a third but a fourth class (at Dorothy Height) before it’s said and done,” he added.
Dorothy Height has the largest kindergarten population in MCSD, Wilson said, with six kindergarten classes. But less than 60 percent of those students attended a pre-K class anywhere, he noted.
Bringing students back to Spencer High
Spencer High’s current enrollment is less than 800 students, Wilson said. The state fully funds high schools only when they have at least 970 students. Spencer’s new facility is being constructed to accommodate more than 1,200 students.
One neighborhood and one apartment complex are right across the street from the new Spencer, Wilson said, with about 100 eligible students, which will bring the school closer to full state funding. Spencer also has about 100 students from its attendance zone going to other high schools because of approved hardships, Wilson said. He expects they will return to Spencer when the new building opens next school year.
“The same thing (happened) with Carver,” Wilson said. “They will come back. They will.”
Carver’s enrollment is about 1,150. The proposed rezoning for the new Spencer would decrease Carver’s enrollment to around 1,050, “which is a great high school number,” Wilson said.
“It’s still above (state) funding and will allow both of those schools to grow,” he said.
Exceptions could be made for some students
There could be some exceptions to the proposed rezoning.
Wilson said rising fifth-graders and their siblings could remain in their elementary school; rising juniors and seniors and their siblings could remain in their high school; and students in any specialized program and their siblings could remain in their current school.
The school district already has proposed changes to MCSD’s pre-K program — adding six Early Success Centers to the current nine. That does not require a board vote. But the pre-K proposal “is dependent, in part, on the spot rezoning proposal to provide the space availability needed to fully implement the pre-K proposal,” Lewis wrote in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer.
Neither Lewis nor MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham responded to the Ledger-Enquirer’s question asking what part of the pre-K proposal depends on the rezoning.