Adjusting attendance boundaries - always difficult
Making changes in the attendance area of a school is unusually difficult. It is a decision that any school district Board of Education or administration would prefer to avoid. The reality for the Hudson School District is, that even in these challenging economic times, we've continued to experience growth at our elementary schools, particularly at River Crest, our newest elementary.
The district made every effort last year, when the boundaries of all of our elementary schools were redrawn, to balance our student enrollments. The goals at that time were to maximize our facilities and to meet the classroom size guidelines set by the board for student-to-staff ratios.
The district took advantage of outside experts in demographics, housing and boundary adjustment; worked with city, county and town planners; and listened to the community.
With this information, boundaries were redrawn, and the board approved new attendance areas. With all of this planning, enrollment numbers were right on target for five of our elementary schools, but not at River Crest. We did not predict the high number of kindergarten students who arrived this fall, or the number of new families with elementary children who moved in to the River Crest attendance area.
Because of this increase in enrollment at our newest school, we are faced with adjusting elementary attendance boundaries once more between River Crest and E.P. Rock. It is a time for making tough decisions, and doing what is best for our students, while making sure our taxpayers get the most out of their investment in all our schools.
We know there are several rumors and suggestions circulating that merit a response as we move forward.
RUMOR: Students outside of River Crest's attendance area were allowed into the school in the form of open enrollment and boundary exceptions.
TRUTH: There are no open-enrolled students (students attending Hudson School District who do not reside in our district) at River Crest. The number of students allowed into River Crest (eight) through the boundary exception process is less than the number of students who chose to leave River Crest and attend another district elementary through this same process. In the end, there was a net loss of students at River Crest resulting from the boundary exception process.
RUMOR: The district already has money to add classrooms on to River Crest.
TRUTH: River Crest was designed for additional classrooms in the future. However, adding on to one elementary when space still exists at our other elementary buildings is not a responsible use of our taxpayer dollars. There are some dollars remaining in the River Crest construction budget, but not enough to add on five-to-six classrooms. Lastly, the district will no doubt face tough economic decisions as the state of Wisconsin works on its budget deficit. It would not be in the best interest of the district to use funds for adding on to River Crest at this time.
SUGGESTION: Make space available by moving Early Childhood Special Education out of River Crest.
RESPONSE: Early Childhood Special Education is not preschool for any pre-kindergarten student in the Hudson School District to attend. This is a federally mandated program for special education students ranging in age from 3 to 5 years old. These young children with disabilities come from across the district to River Crest's specially designed learning space. This is the only ECSE program in the district.
ECSE currently serves 42 students at River Crest. Students receive services in two "classrooms" that have been designed with special therapy equipment, changing facilities, parent observation area, and a secure and accessible playground area.
Speech and language, physical therapy and occupational therapy are a few of the required services that are provided to these children. Moving this program to another elementary would be costly and in turn reduce the number of classrooms available to regular education students in that building. The ECSE students are not counted in River Crest's building capacity because it is the only designated space for this districtwide program.
During the Board of Education's community listening session and January board meeting, members made several requests for additional information from administration. All of these requests are being reviewed and researched. A report will be made at the board's Feb. 10 regularly scheduled meeting when it is expected that board members will take action on the boundary adjustment proposal. The board's responsibility will be to make a decision that provides for student learning and best utilizes our schools and financial resources. It is planned that any boundary adjustment would provide a multi-year solution.
Families would like the reassurance that this boundary adjustment will be long term. Just as St. Croix County is expected to continue to grow, the district expects to see continued growth in our student population. The need for adjusting boundaries to accommodate this growth will continue.
When the plan is eventually approved by the Board of Education, we will use our experience from last year's successful transition of students to welcome River Crest students and families at E.P. Rock. Regardless of the specific school our students attend, we know they are experiencing quality learning; this is a constant in the midst of change in the Hudson schools.
Additional information about the proposed elementary boundary adjustment is available at the district's Web site, www.hudson.k12.wi.us.