Durham Public Schools has begun a study that will likely lead to some changed school assignments in the 2018-19 school year.
As proposed, the plan would be the first comprehensive redistricting since the merger of the majority-black former city schools and predominantly white county schools.
“For the most part, our attendance areas have not changed significantly since the city and county school systems merged in 1992,” Hugh Osteen, deputy superintendent for operational services, said in a statement. “They have only been adjusted when a new school or program opens. Over time, that means that some of our schools are overcrowded while other schools have too many empty seats.”
The redistricting proposal comes as DPS attempts to respond to changing population trends in Durham County that have left some schools operating above capacity while others are significantly under capacity.
Last week, school administrators announced plans to move Second Chance Academy, an alternative program for elementary school children and middle schools students serving short-term suspensions, to Brogden Middle School to better utilize the facility, which is operating at only 62 percent capacity.
In 2011 the school board adopted guiding principles for student assignment, including one that requires the board to take action if enrollment at a school drops below 85 percent of building capacity.
This school year, 11 schools are below that threshold while nine are beyond 105 percent of building capacity.
School officials have said that the redistricting study will involve extensive public engagement.
They have invited parents, educators and other interested parties to review the board’s guiding principles at its new “Redistricting Study” webpage, which is available from Quick Links at dpsnc.net., and to suggest changes to the board’s priorities.
“This is going to be a careful, thoughtful process,” school board Chairman Mike Lee said. “We’ll want to hear from our families, teachers and staff every step of the way. Families have choices, and we want DPS schools to be the best choice for every family regardless of race, ethnicity, or home address.”
The guiding principles for non-magnet schools, for example, include promotion of diversity and considerations of K-12 feeder patterns, student stability, levels of transportation available and impact on student performance.
The principles for magnet schools include all of those for non-magnets, plus one that urges the district to “provide diverse and relevant program offerings throughout the district that meet student interest and provide expanded learning opportunities.”
The page also includes the school board’s guiding principles for student assignment, which were adopted in 1994.
Schools in south Durham such as Creekside Elementary School have experienced much of the overcrowding while under-capacity has been a big concern for schools in the north.
Charter schools have also wreaked havoc on DPS enrollment patterns, particularly in the north, and are expected to continue to do so in coming years.
DPS has already projected its enrollment to decrease by 500 students – from 33,275 to 32,750 – next school year. Meanwhile, projections call for charter school enrollment to grow by 700 from 6,415 to 7,115.
“It is now even more important that we spend our funds wisely,” said Superintendent Bert L’Homme. “Our priority needs to be on excellent teaching and instruction. That will be our focus during this study.”