Richmond Public Schools Begins Comprehensive Rezoning Process
Education reporter Megan Pauly and city hall reporter Roperto Roldan discuss Richmond Public Schools plans to rezone all schools at the elementary through high school level before the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Megan Pauly: Hi – Megan Pauly here, education reporter for WCVE.
Roberto Roldan: And I’m Roberto Roldan, city hall reporter.
Pauly: For this week’s Learning Curve, we’re talking about rezoning. Richmond Public Schools recently decided to move ahead with plans to rezone all schools at the elementary through high school level before the start of the 20-21 school year. That means redrawing the maps that determine where kids go to schools.
Roldan: So why does the district want to rezone now?
Pauly: Great question. So the district has identified a number of goals they’d like to achieve through rezoning. Among them: ensuring kids spend the least amount time in transit on buses getting to school. Other goals include increasing student diversity, alleviating overcrowding and planning for future development.
Roldan: Where is most of the overcrowding?
Pauly: So according to a recent demographic analysis completed from an outside firm, 6 out of 11 elementary schools south of the James River are over their functional capacity. Broad Rock Elementary is the most extreme at nearly 143 percent capacity. A lot of kids there and at other schools are learning in trailers.
Lucille Brown Middle School on the south side is also over capacity, as well as Huguenot High School.
Roldan: Do we know what’s causing that overcrowding?
Pauly: So I talked to Matthew Cropper, he’s the president of the firm that did the demographic analysis. Here are some of the factors they took into consideration in their 10-year forecast:
Cropper: Migration data, housing, and mortality and fertility….
Pauly: Cropper said more young families are moving to the southside, more specifically the far south side. A lot of the schools just south of the James are actually under capacity because older people live there. Both Southampton and Fisher are about 18 percent under capacity -- and Blackwell is about 25 percent under capacity.
Also, it’s important to note that overcrowding isn’t just a southside problem. According to the Cropper analysis -- Fairfield Court, Overby Sheppard, Linwood Holton, Mary Munford, and Fox Elementary are also over 100 percent capacity, while a number of surrounding schools are under 100 percent capacity. Bellevue and Carver Elementary are about 30 percent under capacity --Chimborazo is about 24 percent under capacity and Barack Obama Elementary is about 16 percent under capacity.
Roldan: So how big of a role is housing playing in this?
Pauly: Housing is huge. In fact, Cropper said the housing market will become an increasingly dominant factor affecting school enrollment trends. But for the most part, the 10-year forecast assumes no major changes to the housing market…no recession, no major interest rate fluctuations, no large housing developments. That includes public housing. So Cropper assumes there won’t be hundreds of new units coming on or offline in the next decade.
Roldan: Interesting. So what’s next?
Pauly: There are two public meetings tonight -- one at MLK Middle School and one at Southside Community Center. Families can also share feedback online throughout the summer. The district has created a website specific to the rezoning effort. Here’s Chief Engagement Officer Shadae Harris:
Harris: It’s really important for us for our families and community members…for them to be able to share their voice: what do they want to see out of this process?
The district has also established an advisory committee to drive the rezoning work. They’ll meet for the first time on Thursday evening.
Roldan: Who’s on that committee?
Pauly: Three school board members are on the committee. The district also appointed three people, and each school board member nominated two. Sarah Gross is one of them. She was on the district’s last rezoning committee a few years ago when they tried to undertake comprehensive rezoning. But she says the committee and administration didn’t know how to manage opposition to changes.
Gross: We didn’t know how to allow the community to weigh in but also say, thank you, this is the best solution for this data-driven process that we just undertook. So I think that’s the big challenge.
Pauly: She also just wants to make sure that the district is realistic about what they want to accomplish, including making clear which goals take priority. If everyone isn’t on the same page about what they want to accomplish -- for example, if they can’t agree on whether or not they support closing or consolidating schools -- she thinks it might be better to hold off another year, collect data based off of the 2020 census, and come back the table then.
Roldan: Got it. And aren’t there a few new schools set to open this fall?
Pauly: Yep – the southside will see a new Greene Elementary and a new Elkhart Thompson Middle School, while the northeast side will see a new George Mason Elementary. That new capacity will be factored into this process. The district is also looking for money to complete a facilities assessment.
Roldan: Got it – thanks. Megan Pauly is WCVE’s education reporter. I’m Roberto Roldan, city reporter. You’re listening to Learning Curve.