The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 26, 2013

Joplin board delays vote on school redistricting plan

By Emily Younker

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin Board of Education on Tuesday night tabled a proposal that would redraw the district’s school attendance zones, and change the schools that many elementary and middle school students attend.

“I think we need more community input,” said board member Jim Kimbrough, who made the motion to table the proposal as soon as it was brought up during the meeting. “I get it; it (redistricting) needs to happen. I’m struck on the process. Our district, over the last six or seven years or more, has been built on community involvement and getting people’s input. I just feel like we dropped the ball on this.”

The unanimous vote came after several parents, mostly from Cecil Floyd Elementary School, voiced their unhappiness with the speed in which the proposal has moved. The plan, which was drafted by a committee of 30 administrators, principals and parents, was publicly introduced Feb. 5, the same day that parents in the affected schools were notified by letter of the potential changes.

Matt Auer, a parent of two South Middle School students and one Cecil Floyd student, urged the board during the meeting to postpone its vote on the proposal.

“I think redistricting in Joplin schools is maybe what we need in the future, but when you rush into decisions, you make bad choices,” he said. “I think this proposal needs more time so we get it right the first time.”

The plan would redraw some of the district’s attendance zones, which dictate the schools that students attend based on their addresses. About 200 current elementary students would be rezoned to different elementary schools next year. Affected students in kindergarten through fourth grade would have the option of remaining in their current school, but transportation would not be provided by the district.

The plan also would redirect Cecil Floyd, Royal Heights, Kelsey Norman and Emerson students to different middle schools. Current middle school students would be unaffected; current fifth-graders with a sibling attending their current middle school would have the guaranteed option of also attending that school instead of the new middle school.

Under the proposal, parents of current third- through seventh-graders would have the option of applying for a permit for their children to attend their current middle school instead of the newly assigned middle school. Permits would be given according to space and staffing availability in the schools and would have to be renewed each year.

Administrators have said the plan was spurred by the consolidation of several schools after the May 2011 tornado as well as the post-storm population shift in the city. They have said the changes are an attempt to balance enrollment, particularly among the middle schools; to ease overcrowding in schools already filled to capacity; and to free space at schools in the tornado zone, where growth is anticipated.

Superintendent C.J. Huff said Tuesday night that waiting until next year to pursue redistricting would cause a delay in addressing current problems, such as overcrowding at South Middle School.

“We will be impacting more kids next year than we are today” if the proposal is postponed, he said.

Board member Anne Sharp questioned whether postponing a decision on the proposal would generate new ideas, new input or new solutions.

“If we table this and get all the information, how will that change?” she said. “I don’t know what could change, what the difference would be. I don’t want to be sitting here in a year and be doing the same thing.”

Board member Dawn Sticklen said she has heard from parents who said they were unhappy that their children would attend a different middle school. Many of the 14 parents who spoke on the plan during a Feb. 18 public hearing, most of them from the Cecil Floyd zone, said they wanted their children to continue attending South Middle School instead of North, which is what the plan would direct.

But Sticklen also noted that parents who approve of the plan “aren’t going to come to the meetings and voice their love for this. You’re hearing a lot of different input from both sides.”

With the board’s vote, any action on the proposal has been pushed to the March 26 meeting. It was unclear Tuesday night what steps would be taken before that date to solicit more community input and involvement on the plan.

In other business Tuesday night, the board approved:

• More than $1.68 million in construction work at East Middle School and Joplin High School.

• A $1.04 million proposal for construction services on a project to add safe rooms to schools.

• A proposal of up to $46,000 for Patterson Latimer Jones Brannon Denham Inc. of Joplin to review cost analysis documents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• Nearly $44,000 for 90 iPads for eighth-grade teachers as part of the district’s one-to-one technology initiative for that grade level, and $23,000 to increase the bandwidth level.

• A trip during spring break of 2014 to Orlando, Fla., for the high school band to compete and perform at Disney World.

School calendar

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION on Tuesday night approved a 174-day calendar for the 2013-14 academic year. School will begin Aug. 15 and end May 16.