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JCPS panel continues work to draw equitable school boundaries

JCPS panel continues work to draw equitable school boundaries

March 18th, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in News

For a little more than three months, the Jefferson City Public Schools boundary lines committee has discussed how the district can achieve equity as it decides which students will attend each of the two middle schools and high schools.

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JCPS formed its committee of 32 volunteers who represent each of the district's elementary schools late last year.

JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the district had more than 80 people volunteer to be on the committee. The application deadline was Nov. 10.

The district used prospective committee members' answers to the question on the application of why they wanted to serve to determine who could be objective and take a districtwide perspective, Linthacum said. Other things were taken into consideration for populating the committee, like diversity of demographics and people's role in the community, he added.

Committee members represent the schools they do based on where they live.

Committee members can be contacted at district emails with the template firstname.lastname@jcschools.us.

Why and how is the district looking at boundary lines?

The district convened its boundary line committee because the site for the future Capital City High School sits within the attendance lines of Lewis and Clark Middle School, although Thomas Jefferson Middle School will feed the second high school under construction at Mission Drive off Missouri 179.

The committee has been tasked with making recommendations for how to create equity between Capital City High School and Jefferson City High School. To do that, they have been determining how the district could adjust which elementary school students attend which middle school to feed each high school.

The district is not changing determinations of which neighborhoods feed which of its elementary schools.

Linthacum said he would like the district ultimately to look at boundary lines every three to five years.

Equity for the committee's purposes at hand means creating as close a balance as possible in terms of enrollment and the percentage of students at each high school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch — a standard indicator in the education world of the level of poverty in a community.

"The rule of thumb is 10 percent from the median, top to bottom," Preston Smith, owner and manager of Business Information Services, defined equity in terms of free and reduced-price lunch eligibility percentages. Smith's company is the demographer that has provided the data the committee uses to run scenarios of what hypothetical adjustments would do. He said he offers input and suggestions as the committee progresses.

The district is paying Smith and his company $8,750 for the services, a price locked in through a prior agreement. Business Information Services has a contract with JCPS to do a demographic study every other year. In lieu of the final study in the contract scheduled for 2017-18, Jason Hoffman, the district's chief financial and operating officer, proposed last summer to have the company do the redistricting project instead.

Smith said he has billed the district an additional $600 for services, but he doesn't anticipate billing any more.

The committee is not using any demographic data on race or ethnicity in its determinations, Smith said. He said he doesn't think that's important. He has used racial demographics to determine school boundary lines only once. It was a redistricting project in the South, but that's only because there was a court order that required the process be done that way, he said.

There's no such legal requirement in Missouri, he noted, and moreover, it might be legally prohibited to use race in determining school boundary lines, citing race can't be used in establishing congressional district boundaries.

When has the committee met?

The committee has met twice in person as one large group at JCPS' Dix Road Education Center — once in December and once in February. Smaller groups of committee members have conducted online work sessions, each person from his or her individual home or office.

Stephanie Sappenfield, executive assistant to the superintendent and secretary to the Board of Education, said with the exception of the first online meeting, notice of all the in-person and four total online work sessions has been posted on the front door of the district central office, in the district's human resource office and emailed to media.

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For the online work sessions, committee member Brad Bates explained, smaller groups of committee members were given a phone number to call into a conference call and given the log-in information to remotely view Smith's computer screen.

Committee members could then discuss proposed changes and evaluate their effects on the district on Smith's screen.

The district's boundary line committee website — jcschools.us/Page/16097 — notes those sessions were open for public viewing at the Capitol View Room of the district's central office at 315 E. Dunklin St.

Linthacum said he facilitated one of those viewings, which maybe 12 people attended. He thought attendance at the in-person gathering in February was good.

He said the next step is to have another group committee meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Miller Performing Arts Center.

The committee will at some point narrow its list of proposed scenarios to about three — whether that's at the Tuesday meeting or another to come, he said. Once the committee is comfortable with a few scenarios, two town hall meetings for public input will be held at Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark middle schools, he said.

"Those are still a ways away," Linthacum said.

In a letter to district stakeholders about the boundary line committee, Linthacum said: "These meetings will give community members an opportunity for input on the scenarios brought forth by the committee and other possible scenarios developed from community discussions."

In the meantime, he has met with parents at Lawson, Cedar Hill, Thorpe Gordon and South elementaries.

He said a meeting is scheduled April 3 at Thomas Jefferson and April 10 at Lewis and Clark. Those meetings are not the town halls, which are still to come, and he added the early April meetings at the middle schools are primarily for parents of students there — so they can feel comfortable to ask all the questions they want.

The progress of the committee's work is can be viewed at jcschools.us/Page/16097. The boundary line change scenarios deemed most optimal so far range from not making any middle school attendance boundary changes to making adjustments of one degree or another to which middle school Cedar Hill, Thorpe Gordon or South students attend.

Linthacum's letter to district stakeholders notes "boundary lines will be a JCPS Board of Education agenda item as a first and second reading for two months prior to a final recommendation, which provides community members an opportunity to address the Board of Education."

The boundary line changes will take effect for fall 2019 and are planned to be announced with at least a year's advance notice.