JCPS Board Considers Student Assignment Changes Soon

by Devin Katayama on November 7, 2011

The Jefferson County Board of Education must decide soon on whether to implement a new student assignment plan for the next school year.

The board listened to a report on community feedback about UCLA professor Gary Orfield’s recommendations on Monday. Orfield’s plan aims to protect diversity in schools, but creates smaller regions for busing within the county. 

Around 900 people provided feedback in the past month, mostly online, and many were in support of his recommendations. Around 41 percent agree or strongly agree with what they know about Orfield’s plan, but 43 percent say they need more information. And the board agrees.

“What is pushing this that we have to do this next year,” asked board member Linda Duncan.

Duncan was in the majority of board members who expressed concern that the timeline to make a decision feels rushed. JCPS staff presented Dec. 12 as the date the board would need to pass a new plan to implement it next school year.

JCPS staff said they’ve worked as quickly as possible with the time they had since Orfield presented his recommendations to the district in September.

“We want to make sure we do everything the right way, we want to make sure we study everything very thoroughly, and that’s where we are. We’re just really being methodical and very systematic,” said Jack Jacobs who oversees the JCPS student assignment plan.

That may include giving the board more time to make a decision since there are several moving parts to the plan that have yet to be determined.

For example, transportation offers logistical concerns. Various student assignment plans will add anywhere between 25 to 80 additional buses for transporting elementary school students who would likely be grandfathered into a any new plan, said Rick Caple, director of JCPS transportation.

Waiting a year to implement a student assignment plan could save those additional buses, which costs around $55,000 a year to run a single bus, he said. Also several buses already park off campus while waiting their turn to pick students up after school. Additional buses means additional wait times and the need for more space.

Board member Debbie Wesslund said more dialog between the board was needed before any decision is reached. Board members have spent most of their time listening to presentations from JCPS staff, including theoretical and logistical information. After several board members expressed time concerns, Jacobs admitted that his staff felt rushed too and he said there hasn’t been a pressing need to make change coming from the parents.
“Can I be honest with you. We are not getting the complaints,” he said.

But he is confident JCPS will be able to present the board a reasonable plan for discussion by the board’s Nov. 21 meeting.
“On the 21st the staff will bring back, based on the feedback from the community and listening to the board, changes that are doable,” said Superintendent Donna Hargens.

That may be the key term: doable.

The JCPS board expects vote on any proposals in Dec. 12 meeting. They may choose to accept some changes, or postpone implementation for another year.

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