Jefferson City Public Schools' committee to look at the re-drawing of attendance boundary lines met for the first time Thursday, with the construction of a second high school approaching in the district's near future.
The committee's 30 or so members are tasked with equitably adjusting the district's middle school boundary lines by the end of the spring or early summer.
The district's overall plan remains for Lewis and Clark Middle School's students to feed the current, to-be-renovated high school and for Thomas Jefferson Middle School's students to feed what will be the second high school.
However, the site of where the second high school will be at Mission Drive off Missouri 179 currently sits inside Lewis and Clark's boundary lines.
Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the current middle school boundary lines were approved in 1993, and demographic equity is a guiding principle in their re-drawing. In other words, the district wants to ensure to the greatest extent possible that enrollment and the percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches at the two middle schools — and hence, at the two high schools — is about equal.
Business Information Services owner Preston Smith explained Jefferson City and the school district's maps don't make such calculations an easy task; Smith said he uses Jefferson City as the prime example in Missouri of the difficulty communities can encounter in adjusting school boundaries.
Smith's company is the one the district contracted with this year to analyze its boundaries and run scenarios about what potential changes would look like in practice. He added the calculations have only taken into account overall enrollment and the percent of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch — not race, although he said that usually takes the place of free or reduced-price lunch in southern states' projects.
Jefferson City has clear main thoroughfares like U.S. 54, U.S. 63 and Route C that can be recognizable school boundary dividing lines, but they don't run perfectly east and west or north and south. The school district also has students across the Missouri River in Holts Summit who commute to Lewis and Clark.
"The ultimate goal is equity and common sense" when it comes to what the middle and high school lines will be, Board of Education President Steve Bruce said. "We're not swallowing the whole apple," he added of not adjusting elementary school boundary lines.
The district's chief operating and financial officer Jason Hoffman explained the district's elementary schools are already at capacity, meaning there's no space to work within terms of moving pockets of students around from one elementary school to another.
Linthacum said the scenario presented to the committee Thursday night was a starting point. It split Cedar Hill Elementary School and Clarence Lawson Elementary School's students in terms of which middle school they would attend.
That would also mean some students who would go to grade school together would attend the current high school, while some of their peers at the same building would attend the second high school.
However, Thorpe Gordon Elementary School — which currently has such a split when its students leave for middle school — would be completely reunited in sending all of its students to Lewis and Clark and then to the renovated high school.
Hoffman added, though, by no means is this the final scenario, as the committee will have the coming months to make adjustments.
He didn't know how many meetings to expect — "as many as it takes" to work toward the best scenario possible.
Smith said some meetings could be online with committee members working from personal computers and accessing software provided by his company. He also urged people to work toward the common good of all the district's students instead of gerrymandering lines around their homes or neighbors'.
Bruce said the goal is to have the work done by early summer at the latest to give people a year's notice of any permanent changes to boundary lines.
The meetings are open to the public, and Bruce encouraged people to come in the future. However, they are not open for public comment in terms of the work the committee is doing.
Hoffman said the district wanted to have three people on the committee to represent each elementary school. Some people dropped out at the last minute, but he said the district would like to find other people from those buildings' communities.