The Modesto City Schools board on Tuesday night discussed ways to even out high school enrollment by next year among its expansive new campuses and shrinking schools that sit closer together in older areas of town.
Parent choice and shifting neighborhood demographics have left Davis High at 1,400 this year, while Modesto High, with the drawing power of its International Baccalaureate and performing-arts programs, has 2,450. Largest of all is science-centered Enochs, with 2,489.
District staff asked the board to "fast-track" high school boundary adjustments and make a final decision by the first of the year.
Chief Business Official Julie Chapin told the board there is a schedule for public input, but offered no details. High school boundaries last were adjusted in 2005.
Board member Rubén Villalobos asked if there could be a contact e-mail address or Web page for parents. "I think when you tell people we're going to discuss this at a later date but don't tell them when, we have fewer people at the table," Villalobos said.
Beyer teacher Eric Corgiat brought up intradistrict transfers students who switch schools for special programs or other reasons saying, "Fixing boundaries isn't enough."
This year, Beyer has a net loss of 223 students and Davis is 147 students smaller because of transfers to other Modesto high schools. Modesto High, meanwhile, has 300 more students than live within its boundaries.
District facilities planner Becky Meredith said Gregori boundaries are not on the table because the school just added its senior class this year. "We didn't want to move students, move families, twice in two years," Meredith said.
A committee has been meeting for a year on the issue of boundaries, she said, and only the board portion of the discussion is "condensed."
The two-month turnaround schedule discussed Tuesday stands in stark contrast to the deliberative pace of the Sylvan Union School District, which could have students affected by the Modesto City Schools shift. Sylvan is studying boundary changes for next year; it formed a study committee and held two town hall meetings in September. It plans to release mapped options soon for further comment and make its decision in the spring.
The north Modesto district serves students through eighth grade. Those eighth-graders will pick classes this spring in Modesto City high schools. It's that picking process pushing the Modesto City board to decide by January.
District planners have recommended moving students from Empire Union's Sipherd Elementary as well as a single neighborhood in Sylvan's Freedom Elementary area from Enochs High to Johan-sen. Other changes suggested were to shift unspecified Enochs neighborhoods to Beyer, and Beyer neighborhoods to Davis.
The boundaries issue was a report, with no action taken.
Some issues facing the district as it tries to redraw the lines:
Athletic divisions: Modesto teams compete in the Modesto Metro Conference, pitting tiny Davis, with 1,400 teens, against Enochs, with 2,489 students. That's too wide a spread, for safety as well as athletic development, to remain as a single conference, say leaders with the Sac-Joaquin Section that oversees the MMC. Modesto City has pledged to bring its schools into reasonable parity to keep the MMC in play.
Special taxes: Children who live in areas paying additional property taxes to build Enochs and Gregori are supposed to get first dibs to attend there. Areas paying those taxes include Village I, where many Freedom Elementary students live; the Crossroads area of Riverbank; and homes between Snyder and Bangs that now attend Gregori or Beyer.
The law reads: "The goals and policies adopted by any school district pursuant to subdivision shall include
a priority access policy that gives priority attendance access to students residing in a community facilities district whose residents have paid special taxes that have
financed the construction of school district facilities."
District facilities planner Meredith said via e-mail before the meeting that while Village I is expected to remain within the Enochs boundaries, "state law clearly states the 'priority access policy' is not a right."
Test score sanctions: Modesto high schools that receive federal funding for low-income students all but Enochs, Gregori and Beyer have missed rising No Child Left Behind testing targets for three or more years. That means that under federal law, students at the other four high schools must be offered the choice to attend Enochs, Gregori or Beyer. The requirement could decrease the effectiveness of efforts to shift students out of Enochs, which enjoys the highest test scores of the district.
In other action, board President Nancy Cline took the gavel from Villalobos. Cindy Marks was elected vice president for the next year. Member Stacie Morales took her seat, returning the board to full strength.
Trustees discussed the use of full-length movies in classes in a first reading of regulations on instructional materials. Marks said some districts are limiting videos to short sections or outlawing them, reasoning that limited instruction time is better spent teaching. Some members argued for clips that enhance foreign-language learning, science demonstrations or historical footage.
Morales said it wasn't the use of films such as "Anne Frank" that draws fire, it's when a substitute shows a standard movie blockbuster for two days that parents have concerns.
Social media policies were given a first read, with unanimous approval by the board, covering texting and use of social media sites by employees with students.
The board unanimously approved bargaining positions for 2012-13 negotiations with its teachers. Talks were delayed by uncertain state funding before tax initiatives were decided. The district is seeking cutbacks in positions; the union is asking that furlough days be restored.
Members heard a report on the district's standing on federal academic progress measures. Modesto City's high school district was one of the first to fall under No Child Left Behind remediation requirements, at the time judged eighth-worst in the state. It has improved to center of the pack, 58th, among the 94 original districts to face sanctions, said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson.
District Director of Educational Services Thor Harrison said the district continues to struggle with English learner scores, graduation rates and math comprehension as more students take algebra earlier.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.