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Fort Bend ISD trustees gather community input for re-zoning

December 17, 2018

After considering four options that could potentially relocate the home campus for more than 3,500 future high school students, Fort Bend ISD trustees recently set upon the complicated process of re-zoning school attendance boundaries for five south side high schools.

District officials say boundary shifts are needed to balance enrollment between underutilized high schools and fast-growing Ridge Point High School in Sienna Plantation, where enrollment is currently at 108 percent over capacity. For trustees, the next step in the process involves gathering community input and district officials hosted a series of three meetings at Marshall, Travis and Elkins High Schools on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (Dec. 10-12). Superintendent Charles Dupre opened the meeting at Elkins High School by acknowledging the arduous road ahead.

“What we are engaged in is perhaps one of the most complex and difficult things we have to deal with as a district and that is determining school boundaries,” Dupre said. “No matter when we do it and what area of the district we have to work with it is always challenging because people love their schools. They love their communities and change is hard for anyone.”

The meetings featured a pre-recorded video narrated by consultant Scott Leopold of Cooperative Strategies outlining four proposed options for rezoning attendance boundaries.

Scott Ellison, father of two children and a resident of Missouri City’s Quail Valley, was among the hundreds that came to the meeting at Elkins to voice concerns that his children could lose the opportunity to attend Elkins High School, where he had hoped his son could study Mandarin Chinese and take other advanced foreign language classes. Three of the four rezoning options would mean Ellison’s children would attend Marshall or Willowridge High School where certain academically elite classes aren’t currently offered.

Like many others, Ellison was disappointed trustees weren’t at the meeting to talk with parents.

“The people who are supposed to be making these decisions are not here listening to what we have to say. They’re going through some consultant and that doesn’t fix the problem,” Ellison said. “The consultant will put everything on a piece of paper and it won’t communicate how passionate we are about our educational system.”

Ellison said he was planning to move his children to a private school if trustees voted to re-zone his neighborhood out of the Elkins attendance zone.

Currently, Elkins High School is currently at 91 percent of its enrollment capacity and isn’t expected to become overcrowded until approximately 2025. However, district officials say the classroom space available at Elkins and the three other high schools is needed to help relieve massive overcrowding at Ridge Point High School in Sienna Plantation, a master-planned community located near Missouri City. Ridge Point High School is currently at 108 percent of its enrollment capacity and is expected to increase to more than 4,000 students and 167 percent capacity by 2025.

Hightower High School is expected to remain between 78 percent and 85 percent of its enrollment capacity over the next ten years. Marshall and Willowridge High Schools have low enrollment numbers and are expected to remain in the 45 percent to 55 percent enrollment capacity over the next decade.

“There are reasons why Willowridge and Marshall are underutilized. It partly has to do with what trustees have done in the past and partly that the district has not been educating kids across the district equally,” Ellison said. “Once they start doing a better job of educating students, they won’t have a problem with underutilization because parents will want to move to those neighborhoods.”

The enrollment balancing act

During discussions leading up to Fort Bend ISD’s $992.6 million bond election approved by voters last November, trustees and administrators sought answers to balance enrollment between high schools that were underutilized on the district’s southeast side and fast-growing Ridge Point High School. One answer, all agreed, was to attract students by creating new programs to bring to Willowridge, Hightower and Marshall High Schools.

Over the coming year, superintendent Charles Dupree told trustees said he and his staff would begin working to determine what types of special programs would be best for Marshall, Hightower and Willowridge students. One option would be the creation of an early college high school at Marshall and/or Willowridge High Schools, Dupre said. Another creative alternative mentioned for Marshall High School was a law academy program that would offer a high academic law track, along with a program for court reporting and a para-legal program that would offer certification and the chance to enter the workforce immediately after graduation as a possibility.

“These programs could be an academic-based program or a trades-based, career and technology-based program,” Dupre told trustees at the May 14 board meeting. “We believe this is another important program we need at Fort Bend ISD, that would allow students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree.”

The planning process continues for new programs for Willowridge, Hightower and Marshall High School. But, decisions are needed to manage overcrowding at Ridge Point High School before school starts next year.

Some contend rezoning creates boundaries

Sienna Plantation Phyllis Parker said she had endured the process of rezoning schools many times over the years with her children.

“Follow the money, because every time there is a re-zoning, there’s always the ‘money neighborhoods’ that get the great schools and then they zone out the lower income areas. I think it’s not fair because it pits all the community against one another,” Parker said after the re-zoning presentation at Elkins High School. “We want Fort Bend ISD to do better planning because they are trying to build a new high school just to appease Sienna Plantation residents. I think that is biased and wrong.”

Ashley Barras, a new homeowner who moved with her husband and two young children to Fort Bend County last year, said she now felt cheated for supporting the November bond election, which promised numerous upgrades for schools her children may now not be zoned to attend.

“Fort Bend ISD has an awesome reputation and we were very strategic about buying a house near what we thought were the best schools,” Barras said. “But, we are very fed up at this point. If we had known that trustees planned to re-zone us to different schools far from our neighborhood, we wouldn’t have voted to approve the bond.”

Online Surveys

District officials are asking parents and residents to participate in an online survey posted on the district website to offer feedback on the four re-zoning options. Staffers will review the survey answers and say the four options could be changed if needed. The survey deadline is January 2.

Trustees are expected to review the survey results at their January board meeting and a final vote is expected at the February trustee meeting, according to agenda documents. If approved, re-zoning could be put in place for the 2019-2020 school year.

For more information, visit www.fortbendisd.com/boundaryplanning.

knix@hcnonline.com

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