Saturday, June 13, 2015

The district will need Hoover even after the new schools open

Word has it that some of the families in and near Windsor Ridge are concerned that keeping Hoover open will prevent the district from opening Hoover East (which I’ll refer to here as the East Elementary School, to avoid confusion). It’s understandable that those parents would not want the rug pulled out from under them after being told that the new school will open in 2019 (though I would hope that they would sympathize with Hoover families who are threatened with the closure of their school, too). But they should not be concerned about keeping Hoover open. First, the East Elementary ship has sailed: realistically, it is too late to cancel that building even the district wanted to. Second, the district will continue to need Hoover even after the new school is open.

Some people have argued that the district can’t support Hoover and the new school, too. Financially, that is simply untrue, as I wrote here. But will there be enough enrollment to support that many schools? The answer is yes, for these reasons:

On paper, the planned 2019-20 east side capacity looks sufficient to handle the projected enrollment, even if Hoover is closed. But, as the district has repeatedly experienced, redistricting is not so simple. The two new schools each have a capacity of 500, but it is very unlikely that the district will be able even to come close to filling those schools at that time. Alexander, for example, is likely to remain underfilled for a good long while: it is simply going to be very hard to create districts that will put anywhere near 500 east side kids at that site, because the presence of several schools immediately north of it make the logistics so challenging. (And the district is even planning to add 100 seats of capacity to Grant Wood school, which is immediately to Alexander’s north!)

A similar problem is likely to arise at the East Elementary. There simply aren’t enough students in its immediate vicinity to fill it when it opens. The bulk of the student density is in the more central east side, in the established neighborhoods. It is easy to say “just rezone everyone,” but given the geographical distribution of students, the real-life logistics will be very hard.

But these are not terrible problems. It actually makes sense for those schools to open at fewer than 500 students and then grow over time. The whole rationale of building Alexander and the East Elementary was to remedy overcrowding in existing schools and to accommodate and spur expected development. If the district were to fill those schools to capacity at the outset, what would happen when the hoped-for development appears? With Hoover gone, the district would have no way to accommodate it, and would have to build more schools and additions—needlessly spending millions. It makes much more to sense to start those schools with enrollment under capacity and then grow into them.

If it’s true that Alexander and the East Elementary will open significantly below full capacity, then the overcrowding in the existing east side schools will continue, unless Hoover is kept open. Suppose the district puts only 325 kids at each of the new schools in 2019 (which is probably optimistic). Under the current enrollment projections, that would leave 2,635 kids to enroll at the remaining east side schools. But the capacity of those schools will be only 2,338. The most sensible solution to that overcrowding is to keep Hoover open.

And there’s another factor: the district’s projected enrollment figures do not include the kids in its preschool programs. That’s probably because preschoolers don’t have “attendance zones,” and can be shifted from one building to another if necessary. But they won’t just disappear, and it’s not feasible to send all preschoolers to the west side, even if there were space there. And (ironically!) preschoolers actually take up more space, because class sizes have to be smaller. So the actual expected east side enrollment is significantly larger than the district’s estimates make it appear.

Ultimately, a close look at projected enrollment should give Hoover families hope. It’s only a matter of time before the district realizes that life is much easier with Hoover open than with it closed.

1 comment:

Chris said...

This is also an argument that there is no reason to pit east side schools against one another. When rezoning time comes around, it will become increasingly clear that all the east side schools will benefit from keeping Hoover open. Of course, there’s no reason for the district to wait until the rezoning process (i.e., 2016) to reach that conclusion . . .