Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board OKs redistricting plan 5-2

CorrespondentJanuary 18, 2013 

— The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school approved a redistricting plan endorsed by administrators by a 5-2 vote Thursday night, but several board members sharply criticized the process.

The plan will move more than 1,000 elementary students to different schools next year, in large part to fill the new Northside Elementary School being built near downtown Chapel Hill.

The plan gives fifth-graders the option of staying at their current schools and distributes at-risk students evenly across district schools, a factor several board members cited in selecting the plan.

Board member Mike Kelley criticized aspects of the redistricting process, which he said did not honor goals set by department policy, or use optimization software in creating new school zone maps.

“You have a plan here, it might be a good plan, it might even be the best plan,” Kelley told assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese. “But I don’t support the process. I don’t see how the fruit of that process can be supported.”

The plan angers many parents in the Parkside and Larkspur neighborhoods in northern Chapel Hill who protested their move from Seawell Elementary to Northside Elementary at public hearings. The new Northside school will open in August with a projected 579 students.

The selected plan leaves room at Glenwood Elementary for future expansion of Mandarin Chinese classes there, which many parents involved in the school district’s Chinese dual language program sought.

The plan will move students from Frank Porter Graham Elementary, pursuant to its conversion as a magnet school for the district’s Spanish dual language program. Next year’s fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed to stay at Frank Porter Graham if they choose.

Harder to measure

Board chairwoman Michelle Brownstein supported the plan but echoed Kelley’s criticisms of the process, and said she had concerns about the use of “qualitative data” to measure students deemed at-risk, a socioeconomic designation based on data showing that children from low-income families are more at risk for failure in school than other students.

School officials faced a dilemma this year in trying to determine the socioeconomic make-up of Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools when the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that use of free and reduce-price school lunch data constituted a violation of privacy. Instead, administrators polled school counselors for their assessments of schools’ at-risk numbers.

Still Brownstein voted for the administration’s recommended plan, which was based on the second of four proposed district maps put forth by the redistricting committee in November. The board approved the plan in a 5-2 vote.

Kelley and James Barrett voted against the plan.

High school relief

The board also approved a plan that will move 100 students from overpopulated Carrboro High School, though no current Carrboro High students will be required to move next year. Another small middle school redistricting plan approved Thursday will shuffle about 67 incoming sixth-graders to different middle schools next year.

During his criticism of the redistricting process, Kelley also noted that in creating the plans, the redistricting committee gave short shrift to busing and transportation time and distance, which, he said, “was not calculated and was not measured in any systematic way.”

A review of the process is forthcoming, LoFrese said. Changes to the redistricting procedure had been made to reflect problems with the last school redistricting.

LoFrese said there is much work to do planning for next school year. Kindergarten registration begins Feb. 1.

“We are experienced with this, and we will do whatever’s necessary to welcome new students and help them make the transition to their new school,” LoFrese said.

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