Despite lopsided capacity as the result of new school construction, redistricting recommendations for next school year presented to the school board was met with concern.
Working since August 2018, a Redistricting Committee was formed to help fill the empty student seats created after Falling Branch Elementary School renovation and the overcrowded conditions of Christiansburg Primary and Elementary.
Currently, Christiansburg Primary’s capacity is 342 but has 511 students. Christiansburg Elementary’s capacity is 266 and currently nearly double that number at 462. Falling Branch now has capacity for 740 but is underutilized with 535 students.
The redistricting plans would have CPS and CES students who live west of Mud Pike Road and to the western-most school zone line of the current FBES, along with students east of Interstate 81 and the Smith Creek area. This would move 152 students to FBES.
Rising fifth graders would be allowed to remain at CES, but parents would have to provide their own transportation.
Earlier in the evening during the public address portion of the meeting, parents from Christiansburg Primary and Elementary Schools spoke to the school board about their concerns after receiving letters to indicate their children would be attending Falling Branch.
Elizabeth Poor requested information on how students from these areas would be transported from these areas to FBES concerned that Interstate 81 and the Exit 114 interchange would be dangerous.
“Why allow kids to be sent out of their district when we can see CPS from my house? Why send them elsewhere?’ Poor said.
Tabitha Rust voiced opposition to the redistricting because she feels CPS and CES have offered her children positive experiences, a good afterschool program and a sense of community. “Why drive past CPS and CES to get to FBES? “ she said.
Speakers asked for clarification about exemptions to the redistricting, transition and timeline for improvements to CPS and CES.
Parents have launched a Facebook closed group called “Overcrowding and Redistricting – Montgomery County Schools.”
Presenting the redistricting report, Assistant Superintendent for Operations Tommy Kranz recognized the difficulty for kids and parents moving from CPS and CES, but reiterated what he called “ a compelling need for aligning assets.”
“One hundred and fifty nine students are currently transferred out of the CPS and CES district to other schools. If those students’ transfers were stopped, CPS and CES could not handle that number of students,” he said.
Feeding children is also a consideration.
“With fewer students at CPS next year, the percentage of free and reduced lunches would increase from 48 percent to 51 percent. CES would also show an increase to 44 percent free and reduced lunch from 40 percent. Even though FBES enrollment will be going up next year with this redistricting, free and reduced lunches would decrease from 44 percent to 40 percent.”
Miear said, “The state provides money if a school district can maintain the number of students in a third-grade classroom to 19 or under.”
District B School Board member Penny Franklin took issue with the redistricting saying it smacked of discrimination.
Franklin said, “No one wants a bus to go down 81. It is not worth taking kids away from their community. Christiansburg is due for new schools. No one else in the county had to move their child.”
Bond added her frustrations that Christiansburg is overdue for new school buildings.
Superintendent Miear reminded the board that FBES was built with the intention of moving kids from CPS and CES.
“Option one would be these students do not go to FBES if the Board of Supervisors can provide the money for new schools.”
Meanwhile, the local issue is reflected throughout the state as the Virginia General Assembly, at the crossover point this week, passed legislation supporting school modernization through bonds and repairing responding to 2013 reseach that indicates 60 percent of Virginia’s public school buildings and facilities were built at least 40 years ago.
This plan is considered Phase I. The Redistricting Committee will work on Phase II to address future year capacities at CPS, CES and Christiansburg High School.
All recommendations are expected to the school board on April 2, 2019 with a vote on May 7th.