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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 20 2012

West Fargo school boundary changes on agenda

WEST FARGO – The hot topic of proposed school boundary changes will hit West Fargo School Board members Monday night as the rapidly growing district plans to shift some students to new schools.

The district’s 24-member Boundary and Demographics Advisory Committee met five times since late August to form the recommendations that will be presented Monday night to the School Board.

In general, Interstate 94 will divide high school feeder systems. Students attending elementary and middle school north of I-94 will attend West Fargo High School. Students attending elementary and middle school south of I-94 will attend the yet-to-be-named high school created from Sheyenne 9th Grade Center near Veterans Boulevard and 40th Avenue South.

The shift in boundaries begins this fall at the elementary school levels. It is brought on by the addition of Freedom Elementary, which opens this fall just south of I-94 and west of Veterans Boulevard.

Current elementary schools most impacted by the new boundary recommendations include Aurora, L.E. Berger, South and Westside.

Current elementary schools with no recommended boundary changes include Eastwood, Horace and Harwood.

More specifically:

<•> Aurora’s attendance area will have the Sheyenne River as its eastern border.

<•> Westside will lose students in the Amber Valley Parkway area of Fargo and other sections south of Interstate 94 to Freedom.

<•> South will lose the Buena Vista mobile home park area to L.E. Berger.

<•> L.E. Berger will pick up the Buena Vista mobile home park area from South.

<•> Freedom’s area will include students south of

I-94, bordered on the west by the Sheyenne River to 52nd Avenue South; and south of 52nd bounded on the west by the Sheyenne River to where the river meets County Road 17; then where County 17 becomes the western boundary and on the south by 64th Avenue South. Its reach eastward extends into Fargo’s Amber Valley Parkway.

The advisory committee prioritized five main values in redrawing the boundaries, with the top priority being longterm stability; the second being student proximity to schools; the third being utility of available space; the fourth being equity in class sizes, socio-economic status and ethnic makeup; and the fifth being continuity and consistency of high school feeder systems.

“We think it’s a pretty good plan,” said Superintendent David Flowers, also chairman of the boundary advisory committee. “It doesn’t totally upset the apple cart.”

With several boundary changes in the last decade, it wasn’t surprising that stability was the top goal, Flowers said.

“People get very concerned about neighborhood schools,” he said.

Committee member Larry Weil, who is West Fargo’s planning director, said the plan should help neighborhoods.

“Elementary schools are an important part of neighborhood stability. In the 20 years I’ve been here, the community has not been interested in mega-schools. This still fits within that premise,” Weil said.

Setting the boundaries for equity in incomes had to take a backseat, particularly given the barrier presented by I-94, Flowers said.

Most of the district’s lower-income students live north of I-94. With the new boundaries, district data shows 49 percent of students at L.E. Berger will receive free and reduced lunch while just 11 percent of such students will be at Horace.

But the new Freedom Elementary will also have a high percentage of free-and-reduced lunch-program participants at 30 percent. That will make it eligible for federal Title I education aid.

“The south feeder system will not be devoid of economic diversity,” Flowers said.

The written recommendations say “the southside secondary schools will open well under capacity; this is by design, to accommodate growth in the area of the district where the majority of future growth in residential housing will occur.

“It would be short-sighted to create a boundary that ‘balances’ the secondary enrollment now because it would need to be adjusted repeatedly in the future as growth occurs to the south.”

But some boundary changes may be unavoidable south of I-94, Flowers said.

“As long as rooftops keep going up, we’re going to have to be prepared to make adjustments,” he said.

The written plan forwarded to School Board members says rapidly rising enrollment numbers may trigger another new elementary school to be built in 2013 and open in 2014 south of 52nd Avenue South.

Here’s how the school feeder systems shake out:

<•> Northside students will attend Lodoen Kindergarten Center and then move on to Harwood, Eastwood, Berger, South and Westside elementary schools. They then go to Cheney Middle School and graduate from West Fargo High School.

<•> Southside students will start at Osgood Kindergarten Center and then attend Horace, Aurora, Freedom and any new elementary schools. They then move to the yet-to-be-built Liberty Middle School and the high school created by adding on to Sheyenne 9th Grade Center.

The public can comment on the proposed boundaries at Monday’s meeting, but there will also be meetings held at the affected schools.

If those meetings turn up “some glaring oversight or revelation of a different way of doing it,” then administrators or board members can reconsider the plan, Flowers said.

On Monday the School Board will also be asked to form a group to plan the phase-in of sports and other activities at secondary school levels.

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583