District listens to boundary concernsEven though some changes were made to the plan for proposed new elementary attendance boundaries, the feelings from a few parents remained the same.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Even though some changes were made to the plan for proposed new elementary attendance boundaries, the feelings from a few parents remained the same.
At Monday night’s Alexandria School District 206 reorganizational board meeting, Judy Backhaus, human resources director, updated the board on the changes that were made to the plan.
After the presentation, a handful of parents – there were fewer than 15 who attended the meeting – shared their thoughts with board members and administrators.
One of the changes was adding another primary goal, which is to manage building enrollment and class sizes – something the district has always been concerned about, but didn’t specifically include in the proposed boundary plan.
The other primary goals are to create neighborhood attendance areas; increase academic time for students; shorten ride times due to the elimination and reduction of transfer buses and to reduce costs for the district.
Backhaus noted that through the listening process – at public meetings and staff meetings, through the district’s Web site and other means of public input – the following areas of concern were identified:
•Displacement of students.
•Exception to the rule timelines and criteria. The exception to the rule allows parents to apply for an exception to the school their child is supposed to attend. For instance, if the child currently attends Lincoln, but wants to attend Voyager, the parents could apply for an exception to the rule.
•School-age childcare programming – the Compass Program.
•Open enrollment students.
•Placement of teachers’ children.
Backhaus talked about each of the concerns and noted any changes that were made.
The concern about the exception to the rule was that parents had to reapply every year. After hearing the concerns, Backhaus said, the district changed it from every year to every other year.
If a parent applied for and received an exception to the rule, that exception would stay in place for two years if the proposed plan is approved by the school board, explained Backhaus.
At Monday night’s meeting, however, a couple of parents voiced their concerns once again and said that the exception to the rule should be allowed for three years instead of two. No decision was made to change it to three.
Parents also had an issue with the exception to the rule and when they would find out if they were accepted or not.
Backhaus explained that the district altered the timeline so that all “in-district” requests will be processed in early spring and that parents should be notified prior to May 1. Forms should be available to parents by March 1, with a return date back to the district of March 31.
A four-tiered system for granting exceptions was also added to the proposed attendance boundary plan. The tiers in order of priority are:
•Tier 1 – priority given to siblings of a student in a low-incidence special needs program.
•Tier 2 – priority given to students who have received an exception for the previous two years.
•Tier 3 – priority given to “exceptional” situations, as determined by school administrators.
•Tier 4 – all other requests.
Backhaus noted that at each tier, a random drawing would occur if ample space is not available for all students requesting an exception to the rule.
After hearing from a couple of parents who seemed leery about the exception to the rule process, board member Jean Robley said, “We have this process in place and expect parents to use it. That’s what it’s there for. We are trying to work with you as much as possible. Please use the exception to the rule process.”
Another change to the plan includes the addition of another flex zone in the proposed Garfield area. The new zone, which would extend from the current southern border up to Lobster Lake, would help to alleviate potential issues with class size numbers now and in the future.
Backhaus said the flex zone would probably exist for four years and then it would become part of the Lincoln School attendance area.
If students are displaced, she added that the district is willing to work with families in either of the two flex zones through the exception to the rule process. Transportation will be provided within the two zones.
“We will work with families with displayed students,” said Backhaus. “They will get first priority.”
Parents also want the school district to allow them to choose their place of daycare as their “home residence.”
Due to the reduction and elimination of transfer buses, the district will not provide transportation to a daycare unless it is a cost-neutral situation.
Dean Anderson, board chair, reiterated to the parents that the district receives funding from the state to transport students to and from school from their home address – not daycare.
“We have spoiled the public,” Anderson said about using transfer buses and allowing parents to choose where their children will be picked up and dropped off.
Backhaus noted that many school districts around the state do not allow parents to choose where their children get to go to school.
“Most have gone away from it because of the costs [with busing],” she said.
A brief discussion took place about the school-age childcare option – the Compass Program.
An advisory board was formed for the Compass Program, explained Backhaus, including daycare providers and parents who will give input into the make-up of the program.
Fees will be charged at an hourly rate, with a set minimum, and will be comparable to other daycare providers in the area, said Backhaus.
The program will be available based on parent interest.
One parent wondered if there were a specific number of students needed in order for the program to be offered.
She was told that there has to be at least 12 students for the program to run at each of the elementary sites. In addition, the hours would be from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More information and registration materials will be available for parents in early March.
Some of the other recommendations to the board included:
•Leaving current open enrollment students at their current building sites. Beginning next year, new open enrollment families will be placed at a building where space is available after all in-district “exceptions” have been processed.
•Requiring that teachers with students in the district go through the same process as other parents if they want their children to attend a different school.
•Continuing to operate the Miltona School as a magnet school.
•Establishing a four-year review cycle for attendance boundaries.
The school board is scheduled to make a ruling on the plan for the new elementary attendance boundaries at its next meeting, which will take place on Monday, January 26 at 7 p.m. in the media center of Jefferson High School.
For more information about the elementary attendance boundary plan, visit the school district’s Web site, www.alexandria.k12.mn.us, and click on the “Elementary Attendance Boundaries” icon on the upper left-hand side of the page.