Battle of the Boundaries: Pittsburg school board considers redrawing lines for elementary schools
PITTSBURG, Kan. — Four schools all alike in dignity, in fair Pittsburg where we lay our scene.
Meadowlark, Westside, Lakeside and George Nettels elementary schools: together they educate the children of Pittsburg until they reach the sixth grade, but they also divide Pittsburg into four neat sectors with boundary lines drawn to determine where the children of Pittsburg will attend their early years of school.
It seems simple enough: where you live determines which elementary school you go to. However, growing populations, as well as stereotypes and the reputations of the individual schools, have caused parents to enroll their children in schools outside of their boundary.
This has led to buses having to drive farther to get kids and class sizes at certain schools going up. As a result, Superintendent Richard Proffitt announced at the USD 250 school board meeting on Monday that the district should start considering redrawing the boundary lines to fix some of the issues.
“We are going to have to start looking at making some adjustments as to where some of our students may need to go and do some readjusting to make sure that we have more equitable student to teacher ratios and that we are not really pushing capacity at some of our buildings,” Proffitt said. “Especially looking at any growth we may have in the future.”
Proffitt said he knows that this is a touchy issue, but it’s something the board and the district should seriously consider.
“It is something we are certainly going to have to look at because we’re going to have to deal with it,” he said.
Proffitt acknowledged that part of the reason for the current problems is the belief among parents that the quality of education at certain schools is not up to par.
“There has been the perception that possibly the quality of education that you get from elementary school to elementary school may not have been equal,” he said. “But we have worked very, very hard to ensure through our curriculum process and our professional development that we have taken care of that. So, we do not believe, as a district, that there is really going to be any difference [from school to school]. You’re going to get a quality education because we’ve made a concerted effort to make that happen.”
Board members agreed with the statement including Board Vice President Ed McKechnie who said he’d be willing to talk to or deal with anyone who claimed there was any inequity between the schools.
“We all agree there is no inequity,” he said.
McKechnie also said he thinks there are two separate issues at play in this situation.
“One is the boundary lines and the other is where we are going to bus kids to,” he said. “I think we should only bus kids to grade school if you are in the grade school's area. So, if you want to live in school area D and you want to go to school A you need to get your kid to school A. That is not our job.”
Proffitt’s proposal did not specifically say which schools would be affected or how the lines would be redrawn, but he did say it was a conversation the board needed to start having.
“We’re not proposing anything tonight,” he said, “but anytime that you are talking about making some adjustments to where kids go to school it can be a very personal thing for families and we’re going to have to start talking about it publicly. This is not something we just want to spring on the public.”
However, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brad Hanson provided some specific statistics regarding the elementary schools that gave some insight into the areas of concern for district officials which seem to center around Westside and George Nettels elementary schools.
According to Hanson, with the current rate of growth in the Westside Elementary area, the district will need at least three more classroom spaces at the school in the next few years, which he said they don’t have the room for.
“That building was built for however many kids,” he said, “and we’re starting to expand there.”
Additionally, Hanson said that as of last year over 30 percent of the students that attended George Nettels Elementary did not live within the boundary that would allow them to automatically go to that school.
“If we cut back to kids that are just in the boundary at Nettels,” Hanson said, “that would be by far our smallest school.”
Board Member Jason Grotheer also pointed out that some of the problems with class sizes could go back to advice given to the board by the city.
“I believe it was the city that told us that the town was growing to the north and that’s why we built Meadowlark out there,” Grotheer said. “and I haven’t seen any housing additions to the north of our city, they are all in the south end.”
However, other members pointed out that those projections were made over twenty years ago and things can change. Hanson also pointed out that most of the district’s student population does live in the north section of town.
“The majority of our population, student population K through 5, is north of 4th street,” Hanson said.
Overall, the proposal was met with support by board members, but everyone in attendance agreed that this was something that was going to have to be done slowly and with great consideration, especially as new housing developments, like Silverback Landing, begin popping up.
“We have to be sensitive to what the future could hold,” Proffitt said. “I don’t want to get in a habit of yanking kids and families around.”
Going forward Proffitt said the board needs to be prepared for questions from the public. He said he knows some people will probably be upset, but that this is what is best for the district.
“We are trying to make sure that we are going to allow both our students and our staff to be the most successful,” he said. “If we can make some adjustments so that every kid is getting the individualized attention and we’re not having any kind of space issues in any of our buildings, then that’s really what we’re trying to do.”
Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org