Even in a pretty slow news week, which this one is, an inquiring reporter can always do a story about school rezoning. And an opinion columnist, which I am, can really go to town with it.
Rezoning is one of those subjects that is fraught with differing opinions, and it is also one of those stories about which no one is ever completely happy.
Back when my children were in elementary school, we lived in such a fast-growing school district that my son was rezoned four times and went to four different elementary schools. I never thought to complain. I worked for the district and the local newspaper, so I knew the problems facing school administrators in keeping the school populations balanced.
As an employee of the district, it didn’t behoove me to speak out against the board and administration, and as the sometimes editor of the local newspaper, co-owned by a board member, I have to admit that would have had a chilling effect on my usual loud mouth. But honestly, it never dawned on me to complain because it simply boiled down to a growing school district where someone’s ox was gonna be gored. It’s one of those problems to which the answer is, “Whatcha you gonna do?”
So I wasn’t surprised when the latest round of rezoning in Fort Bend ISD, done as a result of the addition of high school #11 in Sienna, and elementary school #45, which also serves the Sienna area, resulted in some unhappy district patrons.
The main complaint I heard from all parents who called me was the overcrowding at Clements High School. You see, Clements was built for 2447 students and now has a total of 2710, with a projected enrollment next year of 2800. These figures indicate that Clements is indeed overcrowded, but these figures straight from Dr. Tim Jenney, superintendent of the schools, differ from the figures supplied to me by parents. According to them, Clements was built for 2200, currently has 2808, and will have over 3,000 next year because the incoming freshmen from the feeder schools are around 800 students.
Even if the administration’s figures are on the low side, and the parent’s figures are on the high side, Clements is overcrowded. The question these parents ask is why students were moved from Elkins and Hightower to Sienna, yet none were transferred from Clements.
A little historical perspective might be in order here. Back in 2007, a rezoning took place to relieve the overcrowding at Hightower. Students were taken from Dulles and Hightower, and some were even thrown in from Elkins (whose parents wanted them to go to Clements) and transferred to Clements. Now Clements is overcrowded and parents are asking why the students moved in 2007 can’t be moved back as all the other schools are supposedly under capacity, except Clements. Some of these very parents fought to keep their students in Dulles. Why not let them go back, asks one parent.
Dr. Jenney said that several options were considered and after the parents, principals and board members weighed in, it was decided at the public rezoning workshops, that only students from Elkins and Hightower would be moved to the new high school #11 at Sienna, resulting in less disruption for the schools. Dr. Jenney said that even the principals approved of the rezoning plan reached at the workshops because they pointed out that more students meant they could offer more varied courses.
In Fort Bend ISD, rezoning only affects those that are freshman this year. Sophomores and Juniors are allowed to stay at their original schools if they desire in order to graduate at that school.
Here are some numbers supplied today by the district:
Elkins, functional capacity-1959; enrolled now-2540; projected-2121.
Hightower, functional capacity-2064; enrolled now-2728; projected-2090.
Clements, functional capacity-2202; enrolled now-2804; projected-?
Dulles, functional capacity-2098; enrolled now-2073; projected-?
According to the district, they are not doing projections for Clements and Dulles now; those will come later in the year. Also, remember that this zoning plan is not set in stone, yet. I think the final board vote is at the regular meeting on December 14.
One parent told me that she first went to board member Sonal Bhuchar, who lives in the Clements zone, and who agreed that something should be done for Clements. However, by the time Bhuchar got to the public hearing, she had made a complete 180 degree turn. The parent said it could only be politics.
Fort Bend ISD elections are funny animals. There are no single member districts. You must live on a certain side of the power line to run in certain positions. However, everyone who votes can vote for everyone else. In other words, all positions are at-large, and even if you live in, let’s say, Sienna, all the Clements people and all the Dulles people and all the Meadows people can vote for or against you. I’d say that is a pretty powerful political incentive (if you want to be on the board in the first place, although God Bless those that do. It’s a thankless job.).
Clements has high test scores and a very high homogenous grouping as far as economics goes. You probably won’t see any free lunches at Clements. But what in the world those parents want their children to go to a school that is chronically over-crowded is beyond me.
Then of course, some don’t
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