Crunching the numbers
Do the data on growth back up conclusions of school redistricting committee?
Column by Terry Short
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Purpose Statement: “To address increasing enrollment in Westwood Hills Elementary School and changing student/teacher ratios in all elementary school.” – from Recommendation for Redistricting Elementary Schools for the 2010-2011 School Year, Waynesboro Public Schools (12/11/09)
A few weeks ago, amidst all of the holiday planning and such, the Waynesboro School District sent home to each parent a one-page foldout that describes what the plan is to address a shortage of two classrooms at Westwood Elementary in fall 2010. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but for those that have, I ask that you dig underneath the wrapping paper, move over the New Year’s Eve party horns from that party you had, and check out the inset table that has a row labeled “Projected Student Enrollment Numbers.”
To the glancing eye, it would look like Waynesboro has got some serious growing pains over on the West End, doesn’t it? Growing pains that require something drastic, like busing our Pre-K-to-second-graders and third-to-fifth-graders to other area schools, and dismantling the neighborhood school setting that our city was built on. But before you put that handout down and conclude that this “must be the best solution,” take a look at that table again and you might notice something pretty important missing – the “projection year”.
Simply, what year is the “Projected Student Enrollment” for? Will we see this surge of students next year? Or over the next five? Or is it more like the next 20 or 40 years? Problem is, no one ever asked that question. In fact, the projection used to generate the recommendation never even considered it.
Over my holiday vacation, I’ve tried in earnest to track down that “projection year” that spells doom for our public-school system, and instead of a year, I got a letter. A letter that along with providing the analytical process used in generating the numbers, it was a letter that concluded:
“It is important to stress that this analysis does not have a time component within it. Therefore, the analysis does not estimate when these homes will be built or when the schools will need to expect these new students.”
For the record, that letter came from the very same city staff charged with preparing the data used by the Redistricting Committee. The projection used by the Committee to justify the proposed plan of busing students across the city. A projection that suggests “where” impacts might be felt, but does nothing to suggest “when.” So let’s talk about the “when” for a second.
1. The “projection” didn’t investigate area birth rates.
2. The “projection” didn’t look at the migration of children coming in and out of our school system.
3. The “projection” didn’t investigate grade retention patterns.
4. The “projection” didn’t investigate past and current “cohort survival”.
5. The “projection” didn’t investigate the residential construction and housing market.
6. The “projection” didn’t factor in decreases of local employment opportunities.
7. The “projection” didn’t factor in area private school enrollment trends.
At this point hopefully you’re asking the question “So what did the ‘projection consider?” Here’s the answer:
1. Existing student ratios by household type (i.e., single-family and townhome/condo)
2. 1,312 undeveloped but approved residential lots
That’s it. So let’s talk about the student ratios by housing type first.
The “projection” assumed that the existing student ratios by housing type will remain forever constant even though our city has one of the largest (and growing) demographic of residents over the age of 55 than many other places in the Commonwealth, and the fact that families are having fewer children, not more.
Next, the 1,312 undeveloped but approved residential lots.
During the great housing boom peak of 2006, the City of Waynesboro issued a whopping 137 residential building permits. But in 2007 it issued 102, in 2008 it issued 38, and last year just 40. Did you know that it would take 10 continuous years of a repeat of issuing the largest number of building permits in our city’s history to populate those 1,312 residential lots? Does that sound realistic to you? On the opposite end on the spectrum using the current trend, it would take until somewhere around 2040 to do that.
When I asked the city staff why they didn’t look at some other factors, their answer was simple, and honest, “We only had two weeks to put it together.”
Please, attend and speak at the public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at Waynesboro High School, get informed, get motivated, write and phone all of the School Board members, open up the dialogue, ask our school administration to talk to the PTOs and our teachers, sign our petition, do something to slow down this process.
Let’s plan this as a community, discuss it as a community and decide as a community.
Terry Short is a member of the Waynesboro Planning Commission.