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Kanawha school redistricting prompts outcry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A redistricting plan proposed by the Kanawha County School board is prompting a public outcry from families in the seven schools that would be affected.

The proposed plan aims to ease crowding in three elementary schools: Overbrook Elementary, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Flinn Elementary.

Under the proposed plan, some students in those schools would be sent to neighboring districts. Some students at Overbrook would go to Holz Elementary, others to Kenna Elementary. Some at Mary C. Snow would be sent to Grandview, and some at Flinn to Sissonville Elementary.

If the plan is passed, it will likely go into effect in the fall of 2013. Students who are now enrolled in the crowded schools could choose to stay there even if they live outside the new attendance areas, but would have to provide their own transportation.

School district officials were charged with coming up with a plan for redistricting in the fall, after parents of students at the crowded schools voiced complaints. A potential plan was presented at the school board meeting Thursday evening, but no action will be taken until the board's next regular meeting in March.

In tandem with the redistricting proposal were changes in the district's policy on transfers between schools.

A new version of the policy makes it more difficult for students to attend schools that aren't in their home district, and closes loopholes that let students stay in a school for long after they've moved out of the attendance area or lets young students into a school that is outside of their attendance area because their older siblings were granted a transfer into that school.

The new version of the policy says that if overcrowding occurs at a school, an out-of-area student can be asked to leave to make room for another student who lives within the attendance area.

Those changes were also part of the county's efforts to avoid crowding in some of the district's schools.

Missie Ruddle, assistant superintendent for middle schools, said that the county isn't facing an increase in enrollment, just a shift toward the schools in the heart of the county -- with some shifting, Kanawha County schools can accommodate all of its students.

Still, she said, redistricting is complicated: accommodating special needs students often means filling more space with less students, leading to crowding, and officials' hands are often tied by mandated student-to-teacher ratios.

"Kids don't come in little blocks of 25," she said. "Enrollment numbers change all the time, so this isn't set in stone."

The most complicated shifts have to do with Overbrook, a South Hills Elementary School that feeds into the coveted George Washington High School. George Beckett, the school district's transportation director, said that by using two more busses officials could keep the transportation time under 15 minutes for all students and relieve some of the traffic in South Hills.

But Overbrook parents came out against the redistricting at Thursday's meeting, despite their early concern with the crowding at the school.

Eugenie Taylor, president of Overbrook's parent-teacher organization, said she, along with most of the school's parents, approved of the changes in the transfer policy -- but they are now squarely against redistricting.

"The numbers and the speculation feel real soft to us," she said. "And they don't convey that the proposed situation will really take care of all of our schools."

Since they first complained of overcrowding, she said, Overbrook parents have decided they could make do with shifts in classrooms within the school, instead of shifts in the entire district.

"That feels more confident to us and more secure than going in and chopping away at the areas that you're talking about," she said. "We won't use a saw to cut off what a small knife could do."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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