Former Lafayette Parish School Board member Mike Hefner will likely be the current board’s guide on how to balance student enrollment across the district.
The school system is dealing with overcrowded classrooms in some parts of the parish, while other schools have several empty classrooms.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting process and it’s not unusual for people to be apprehensive about it,” said Hefner, a demographer. “I understand the argument that people buy a house because of the school zone. But also, too, you have an obligation to the parish and the taxpayers to make the best use of your facilities.”
A contract to hire Hefner to evaluate current enrollment, analyze future growth and develop a school rezoning plan is on the table for the board to consider on July 1. If approved, Hefner’s contract becomes effective that day and his services could cost the board $35,000 to $42,000 — depending upon the scope of services.
The price tag for Hefner to analyze and develop school attendance zones is $49,000, though he would provide a discount to the board, charging $35,000. There would be an additional $7,000 charge if the board asks Hefner to develop a five-year student projection based on factors such as current and proposed housing construction, economic and community development, and population shifts. The five-year report is $10,000, though Hefner also would discount those services.
The School Board recently approved a rezoning plan to take effect in August to free up space at two Youngsville schools — Green T. Lindon Elementary and Youngsville Middle.
The decision affects at least 177 students who will now attend Katharine Drexel Elementary and Broussard Middle. While the two schools are actually closer to the students’ homes, some parents asked the board to wait until the 2016-17 school year, when it’s expected a parishwide rezoning plan would take effect.
The board plans to build a new high school in the Youngsville area, and Hefner’s work would also involve drawing a zone for that new school.
It’s been about 15 years since the school system has taken a comprehensive look at student zoning, said Hefner, who served on the School Board for more than 20 years before he opted not to seek re-election in 2010.
In Louisiana, elected officials and public employees must wait at least two years from the time their service ends to work for or receive compensation from their former agency. Hefner’s service on the board ended in December 2010.
As part of the proposed contract, Hefner would submit drafts of school zone recommendations by Feb. 29, 2016, and complete the five-year student population project by that same month, if the board opts for the five-year plan.
Though he’s set February deadlines, Hefner said he thinks a draft of the plans could be ready for the board before the Christmas break.
“That will give them the spring to start working on the implementation side of it — bus routing, staffing, notification to parents and the schools about which changes are being made,” Hefner said. “That way there are no surprises at the last minute.”
If approved by the board, Hefner would start preliminary work, though he wouldn’t use student data until the Oct. 1 enrollment counts are available. The October count is what is reported to the Louisiana Department of Education and used as the official count to calculate state funding to local districts.
Using software, Hefner can create maps with students’ residence information.
“I’ll be able to easily see what the breakdown of students is — the effect on sending and receiving schools,” he said. “This allows us to do modeling rather quickly and we can look at numerous scenarios at a quick amount of time.”
He would also incorporate student socioeconomic data into the zoning plan.
“What we want to try to avoid is loading up a school so that it has very high free- and reduced-(price lunch) student population where it didn’t have that before because that can change the whole characteristics of a school, including the management of resources,” he said.
Hefner owns Geographic Planning and Demographic Services and has worked on rezoning plans for about 18 school districts, and has worked with parish and city governments on reapportionment plans. He’s currently working with the St. Martin Parish School System.
“I like using the technology to maintain some — people like to throw around the word — transparency,” Hefner said. “It’s using the technology so people understand the dynamics of where students live and why a line ends up where it is, and if I move a line that it will throw off the receiving or sending school.
“I think people understand it more when they see that there’s a reason behind it, that it’s not arbitrary,” he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.