School board talks about redistricting data

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2019

SALISBURY — According to Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody, planning for school redistricting is a lot like playing with jello.

“You punch in one thing and something else punches out,” she said.

Moody offered this analogy Monday as members of the Board of Education looked ahead to a retreat. The meeting, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 23, will address the weighty topics of consolidation and renewal.

In the face of consolidation, the board was tasked Monday with answering multiple questions: What should the resulting redistricting look like? Would student reassignments be limited to the consolidated areas or would the whole system be a part of the shuffle?

Moody said several factors could be evaluated as Michael Miller with Numerix prepares redistricting models for consideration: balancing the schools based on race, academic performance or socioeconomic status, to name a few.

The problem with adding these factors in the mix, she said, is the county’s large size and high level of diversity.

“If you chose to balance the schools based on race, we would have students from the south side of the county driving all the way to the north, passing two or three schools to get there,” she said as an example.

Board Chairman Josh Wagner said redistricting is a “weird process” for the school board.

“Mainly because we’ve never done this before,” he said. “We’re trying to figure this whole thing out as we go.”

He said the county as a whole has not redistricted since 1989, merely adjusted to accommodate new or closed schools.

Wagner said he would like to see redistricting plans that include all with schools currently in the school system “as a starting point.”

But board member Travis Allen worried that doing so would accomplish little.

“If we do redistricting without considering consolidation, we’re not really accomplishing any of our goals,” Allen said. “Because we still have 5,000 empty seats, and we still have schools that we can’t maintain.”

Allen said he’d like to see redistricting considered at both levels: with no closures and with Tier 1 of the proposed consolidation plan completed.

Tier 1 would see the closure of Overton Elementary, Knox Middle, Henderson Independent and North Rowan High schools.

Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox said she’d like redistricting plans to be prepared based on school proximity — sending students to the closest schools as the system currently exists.

Potential plans would also include school capacity. Ideally, Miller said, middle and high schools should be operating at 95 percent capacity, with elementary schools at 90 percent.

Moody said these numbers allow for growth, but Miller said they would be impossible to achieve without consolidation.

“Ninety percent assumes there is at least one school or possibly two schools being closed,” Miller said. “As it stands, your systemwide utilization is in the low 80s. … While some schools you could push up to 90 percent, you would do so by leaving other schools well below 90 percent.”

Dean Hunter said he’d like redistricting to be planned in a way that no students are sent to schools with lower condition assessments “for some level of fairness.”

After some discussion, he agreed this may not be a practical request considering the high assessment of Carson High School.

In the end, the board decided to formulate plans that would include the whole district, creating a system average for school utilization at or about 85 percent capacity and looking at proximity only.

Two plans will be prepared: one with no closures, and one with the Tier 1 closures.

The plans will be presented during the called retreat, though Moody said information would be initially presented as numbers only rather than through maps.

This would help preliminary decisions be made before “the politics of where my neighborhood is comes into play,” she said.

Miller explained.

“At this level, it’s a positive thing if we can develop tables that will allow you to see the number of students impacted, which schools they’re coming from and which schools they’re going to,” he said. “Starting with the data, at least in other districts, has been the best way to wrap your head around it.”