As Linn-Mar School District growth continues, boundary changes on horizon

School board to make decision during meeting on Monday

Published: December 7 2013 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:34 am in
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A few Linn-Mar Community School District families soon may find themselves out of bounds.

The district’s school board is set to vote on Monday to accept, change or reject two proposed recommendations to alter elementary school attendance areas beginning in fall 2014 to balance enrollment between Excelsior and Oak Ridge middle schools.

It’s déjà vu for the district, which has convened six boundary committees since 1994 that resulted in five sets of attendance area changes between 1995 and 2010.

The district’s 2012-13 kindergarten through 12th grade student enrollment was 6,734 — a 2,118-student increase from 2002-03, when 4,616 kindergarten through grade 12 learners were enrolled in the school system.

“It’s part of our culture, I guess. It’s the way that it’s been,” said Dirk Halupnik, Linn-Mar’s deputy superintendent. “The alternative is a much tougher scenario, when you’re losing those students and looking to shrink back.”

Population growth

The Linn-Mar Community School District’s boundaries include parts of Cedar Rapids, Robins and Marion. The school system’s enrollment has risen in the past decade, as has the population of Marion, where the bulk of the students live.

In 2002, 27,803 residents lived in Marion. In 2012, that number grew to 35,843 — an increase of more than 8,000 people.

“The growth trend in Marion has been substantial,” said Tom Treharne, who has been planning and development director for the city of Marion since 2001 and has worked with Linn-Mar’s boundary committee.

The amount of building permits in the city peaked at 354 in 2005, before eventually sinking to a decade low of 147 in 2011. The number rose to 181 in 2012, and now stands at 195 with a few weeks left in 2013.

“It’s nice to see,” Treharne said, noting that increased building can be an indicator of population growth. “We’re happy with that.”

He forecasted that Marion would see more than 200 residential building permits in 2014, with many lots located in northwest and northeast Marion, both areas within the Linn-Mar district lines.

“I would say it’s mostly young families,” Treharne said. "I don't see Marion slowing down with the growth."

Trading places

Excelsior Middle School houses 921 sixth-, seventh-  and eighth-graders, while Oak Ridge’s enrollment stands at 675. The 2013 boundary committee’s charge is to narrow that gap while not changing or dividing which elementary schools feed into each middle school — Indian Creek, Linn Grove, Novak and Wilkins for Excelsior, and Bowman Woods, Echo Hill and Westfield for Oak Ridge.

Other parameters for the committee’s work include not having buses pass one elementary school to transport students to another school if possible, “avoid the terms east side and west side” and “populate each elementary school with as many walkers as possible while balancing enrollment,” according to meeting minutes.

After considering 23 scenarios, the 14 voting participants of the boundaries committee – one member was absent for the final Nov. 13 meeting – settled on what are now known as the red and black options.

“It’s nice from the standpoint that it gives the board some flexibility, but in some ways I think we didn’t force ourselves to decide anything,” said Kim Langley, a Cedar Rapids resident and member of the boundary committee.

She has two children who attend Bowman Woods Elementary School and a third at Oak Ridge.

She said none of them would have to change schools under either recommendation.

“The problem is, I don’t really love either of (the options) because I’m a parent and if my children had to move, I would be devastated,” Langley said. “I just wish there was an option that didn’t hurt anybody.”

Options

The Red Option changes the Area 12 region in the southwest part of the district from the Novak Elementary School attendance area to Bowman Woods, which is adjacent to the neighborhood.  A region on the district’s east side bordered by 29th Avenue, Area 18, would move to the Linn Grove Elementary School attendance area from Indian Creek Elementary School, a building that Halupnik said is currently at 99 percent capacity.

According to a committee estimate, 97 students would change schools under the Red Option.

It's the same old song for Michael Stoddard, an Area 12 resident who has four children in the Linn-Mar district. His twin 6-year-olds are in first grade at Novak.

Their older sister, who is a sophomore at Linn-Mar High School, attended three different elementary schools in the district — Oak Ridge, which used to be a kindergarten through eighth-grade building, Echo Hill Elementary School and Novak — all the result of district-dictated boundary changes.

"It's disheartening," said Stoddard, who is the spokesperson of Save Area 12. He estimated that the group includes 15 to 20 active families fighting to stay at Novak.

In contrast, the black option is set to only move 67 students, all to Linn Grove Elementary School from Indian Creek Elementary School. Those families live in Area 9 and Area 11, in the north central part of the district.

Megan York, a former Area 12 resident whose son open enrolls into second grade at Novak Elementary School, attended the second of two committee-hosted public information events about the proposed changes. York stated support for the black option because of the district’s history of changing the Area 12 neighborhood’s school affiliation.

“If you move these families, you send a message: ‘We will use this neighborhood to balance,’ and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “I think that all those parents who don’t want to move, that’s what they want for their kids is to maintain consistency.”

Mike Blandford, a Marion resident whose kindergartener and third-grader attend Indian Creek, favors the Red Option because his main concern is about safety. He fears that a bus route to take their children to Echo Hill would include a left turn onto County Home Road in Marion.

“That road is awful in winter,” Blandford said. “It’s scary to think they’re going to do that … . I would much prefer a third option that doesn’t put any kids at risk.”

Brian Cruise, Linn-Mar’s transportation manager, said final bus routes have not been created for the 2014-2015 school year and that process of devising those scenarios usually doesn’t begin until March or April prior to the impending school year.

“I’m confident in our staff responding to any situation where we have to address a concern,” Cruise said. “They’re very successful in doing that every single day … . Do I have a huge concern with County Home Road? No. Do we address concerns on areas such as that when we have to? Yes.”

Blandford also admitted that he doesn’t want to see his students have to change buildings.

“We love the school the kids go to,” Mike said, though he expressed sympathy for Area 12 families. “We wanted them to go to Indian Creek, it wasn’t happenstance … . (However), I can’t make the argument that Echo Hill is a bad school.”

That speaks to what Langley said is the one of the sources of parents' emotions.

"The problem is — and it's not really a problem, it's a strength — is we all think our school is the best school and nobody wants to leave," she said.

"No matter what decision you make, someone's going to be devastated ... . If the parents can get past it, the kids will be OK. Kids are resilient."
 

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