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Jefferson Co. BOE looks to minimize redistricting impact

By Staff | Dec 23, 2016

The Jefferson County Board of Education will consider changes to the proposed school redistricting plan to reduce the number of students to be relocated to another county school, officials said.

During a special meeting held at the Board Office on Tuesday afternoon, the BOE requested the 14-member school redistricting committee craft a handful of redistricting options that would help reduce the proposed 830 students to be shifted under the district plan starting in the 2017-18 school year.

Redistricting options to be developed by the committee include: shifting the Shepherdstown Elementary fifth grade class to Shepherdstown Middle School; removing five computer lab classrooms at Jefferson High; building a handful of portable class modules; increasing the district’s school capacity benchmark from 85 to 90 percent; redrawing its redistricting demarcation line along U.S. Route 340; and overhauling the district’s student transfer policy.

“We are developing ideas here that may drive the redistricting committee in the right direction,” said BOE Chairman Scott Sudduth. “At the end of the day, our biggest problem is not physical space, it’s distribution. It’s the distribution of our student body.”

First outlined at the BOE meeting on Nov. 28, the proposed plan would shift a specified number of students from schools determined to be in “high-growth” areas in the county to schools identified as having a “low-growth” rate.

If approved, the plan would require shifting 341 elementary, 210 middle school and 279 high school students to locations different from the one the student would be assigned under the district’s current geographically based plan.

In addition to shifting fifth grade students at Sheperdstown Elementary to Sheperdstown Middle School, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson said capacity could be opened up at Ranson and South Jefferson Elementary schools – both deemed near capacity by removing the pre-school programs from each school.

BOE board member Mark Osbourn questioned if the district’s 85 percent school capacity guideline was a “hard and fast “number, or if it could be expanded to 90 percent, providing space in schools deemed near capacity.

“We should be minimizing the smallest number of students that need to be moved,” Osbourn said.

Gibson said the 85 percent capacity guideline is recommended by the West Virginia School Building Association, but is not a state requirement.

The committee is also charged to assess the impact of removing Jefferson High School’s five computer labs would have on its student capacity, and review the district’s student transfer policy and consider setting a student transfer cutoff for grades first to eighth when a school reaches 85 percent capacity.

“The district transfer policy has not been updated for two decades,” said BOE board member Gary Kable.

Osbourn said Jefferson County residents should receive first preference over school district employees for school transfer requests.

“Those residents who own homes should not have to wait and should come first,” Osbourn said.

Gibson said the committee would present redistricting options to the BOE at its Jan. 9 meeting.

Sudduth asked for the committee to calculate transportation cost estimates for each option.

The district will post committee feedback based on the three open public forums on the district’s website, boe.jeff.k12. wv.us, early next year, Gibson said.