Canon-McMillan considers redistricting

March 10, 2014
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter Members of the Canon-McMillan School Board listened to a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers on a proposed redistricting plan that would affect 50 students.
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter A crowd gathered at the Canon-McMillan High School Monday evening to ask questions and voice concerns regarding a proposed redistricting plan.

Canon-McMillan School District administrators were anticipating a crowd at Monday’s board meeting, and they were right. More than 50 parents filed into the Canon-McMillan High School auditorium after hearing through the “rumor mill” – as several parents referred to the buzz – that redistricting would be discussed.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers presented the multisolution proposal, which primarily consists of “micro-redistricting” to transfer 50 elementary school students to neighboring schools. The plan also includes hiring and transferring an undetermined number of teachers and planning for future growth, keeping in mind areas with housing developments. The board expects to vote on the proposal at next Monday’s regular meeting.

“Doing nothing would go against research and it would also go against our school policy which does support lower class sizes in (kindergarten through sixth grades),” Chambers said, outlining the issues the district faces with an increasing population. He said classrooms are exceeding their capacity, and portable clasrooms would create more expense and safety concerns.

The district’s student population has grown by 1 percent, or about 50 students, over the past school year. And over the last 10 years, the district has seen an influx of more than 700 additional students.

It’s been a decade since the district tackled redistricting, and Chambers said cramped classrooms are just one sign that the district needs to again consider changes. Cecil Elementary School has an average of 25.5 students in first-grade classrooms, compared to an average of 13 first-grade students in each Hills-Hendersonville Elementary classroom. The student population also has exploded in the intermediate schools, but the current proposal would only redistrict elementary schools.

The proposed plan would transfer 50 students altogether from Cecil Elementary to Hills-Hendersonville; from Muse Elementary to Cecil Elementary; and from Borland Manor Elementary to South Central Elementary. The individual breakdown of each school transfer was not made available at Monday’s meeting.

Joni Mansmann, business director, said redistricting would save the district more than $500,000 because it would eliminate the need to hire six teachers and fund portable classrooms.

Many parents who spoke at the meeting said they were not necessarily opposed to the plan, but they criticized the administration for failing to notify parents - especially those who would be affected by redistricting.

Sean Duckworth, of Woodridge Drive, said a week’s notice before the board votes on the proposal is not enough time for parents to voice their concerns. He and other parents said it wasn’t clear whether or not they would be affected based on the maps shown during the presentation.

“I can’t logically say, ‘Hey listen, I don’t like this plan’ because I have no idea what the plan is, but it may affect me and my children,” Duckworth said. “My experience of this is looking at a map a hundred feet away and someone giving me a 30-second dissertation on what’s going to happen … I ask that we be given an opportunity to see what the plan is and be able to intelligently speak on the plan.”

Kristie and Kevin Oelschlager, of Greenwood Drive, said they do not want to uproot their six-year-old twins from Borland Manor. The Oelschlagers said they worry how their children will adjust if they have to transfer to South Central.

“Our two children should be allowed to stay at Borland,” Kevin said. “We’ve been in North Strabane for 12 years. We’re established there.”

“They’re comfortable. I’m seeing them flourish,” Kristie said of their children. “I’m seeing how well they’re doing … and now (the administration) wants to change it. They’re going to be so shocked that they’re going to a different school with none of their friends.”

Chambers said redistricting is never an easy measure, and hundreds of students were transferred in 2004.

“It was, as I recall it, a very emotional time then, too,” Chambers said. “I understand and appreciate that these are their children, and they’re looking out for their best interest. In the end though, the recommendations are in the best interest of the child. Getting those class sizes in balance is ideal.”

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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