The demographer hired to map new lines for Lafayette Parish school zones told the School Board on Wednesday that he could have zoning recommendations to them before Christmas break and advised the board to involve the public through workshops to show them current student populations and the impact of any changes.
The board recently received push-back from some parents who were against a recent rezoning change that affected more than 170 students in the Broussard area.
Demographer Mike Hefner, a former School Board member, said workshops will help the public see the need for the changes.
“The numbers will generally drive what needs to be done. It’s not my opinion or your opinion,” Hefner said. “The numbers tell you what you can and cannot do.”
Hefner said he could have rezoning recommendations for elementary and middle schools in December and would provide preliminary zones for high schools. High school zones will need to be reconsidered in a few years when the board plans to open the doors to a new high school on property it owns in Youngsville.
“You don’t want to move these kids twice. Once is enough,” Hefner said.
The work to create school attendance zones will cost the board $35,000 — a discount from Hefner’s $49,000 fee. In addition, the board opted for Hefner to also develop a five-year student projection for a cost of $7,000. Hefner also discounted that service, which is valued at $10,000.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard told the board the five-year projection is crucial for future planning.
Board members questioned the impact rezoning could have on schools-of-choice programs, which enable students to attend schools out of their attendance zones for specialized classes such as foreign language immersion or information technology.
“If we have an opportunity to consider moving a program because it geographically makes better sense to us, then we’d bring to the board’s attention that option,” Aguillard said.
The board took a small step toward alleviating crowding at two Youngsville schools when earlier this month it approved a zone change for more than 170 students effective the 2015-16 school year. That decision moved school zone lines to direct students from Youngsville Middle and Green T. Lindon Elementary to Broussard Middle and Katharine Drexel Elementary.
The move to rezone the two Youngsville schools angered some parents, who asked the board to defer the decision until a comprehensive plan could be developed. However, the district staff said there is a need for immediate relief of crowding at the Youngsville schools.
The board voted 8-1 to approve a policy that sets perimeters for rezoning — such as a zoning review every three years and allowing students to stay at the school if it would be their final year at the school. Board member Tehmi Chassion cast the sole vote against the policy. Board members Elroy Broussard, Justin Centanni, Britt Latiolais, Dawn Morris, Tommy Angelle, Erick Knezek, Mary Morrison and Jeremy Hidalgo voted in support of it.
The vote came after Chassion asked the board to consider a substitute motion that would exempt elementary school children from the changes. Chassion and Hidalgo were the only two to vote in support of the substitute motion.
The board voted 8-1 in support of Hidalgo’s suggestion that the policy include language allowing younger siblings of those students eligible to remain at the school even if they’re affected by the zone change. Aguillard supported the addition but specified that the younger siblings would be allowed to remain on the campus for one year. Chassion voted against it after sharing with the board that he felt it was a disservice to parents to allow the younger siblings to remain at the school for only one year.
Retired school nurse administrator Betty Alford shared with the board her recollections of prior rezoning efforts. She said her children and their friends had “end of the world” reactions to the change, but within a couple of months, they were diehard fans of their new school.
“Very often, parents move and children survive,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing. I don’t care what you do. It’s not going to please everybody. Children are very resilient. The parents, I think, are a little bit less.”
During the meeting, the board also voted to pay up to $100,000 to hire an architecture firm to begin planning for a replacement for Lafayette High School. There’s no timeline for the replacement of the high school — which enrolls more than 2,400 students — but architects would consider the feasibility of replacing the school.
A master facilities plan developed a few years ago set the cost to replace the school at about $109 million.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.