A public forum which was talked about by many was attended by few. Close to 50 people attended the Boundary Study, Public Forum on Thursday evening, Feb. 4 at Magnolia Elementary. Of the 50 in attendance close to half were Oakdale Joint Unified School District (OJUSD) educators and administrators. A flier announcing the Public Forum was sent home with all elementary school students two weeks prior to the meeting.
The Boundary Study, performed by Schoolworks (an outside source) in the fall was initiated by the district to address the overcrowding of Fair Oaks Elementary school as result of west side growth. It’s an increasing problem which has affected the other three campuses as students continue to be ‘shifted’ to overflow sites for lack of space at their designated ‘home’ school site.
District Superintendent Marc Malone welcomed those in attendance as well as offered background information as to why the study was deemed necessary.
The group was shown a slide show presentation of the Boundary Study outlining two separate options for the new boundary guidelines. They were encouraged to later offer feedback in the way of posing questions to Malone and survey participation.
“When you start to move kids and you start to look at kids you also have to look at other factors,” Malone said upon reviewing the current enrollments. “You have to look at the EL (English learner) population, as well as the Low Socio Economic population reviewing each item when you do a boundary study.”
Malone noted maintaining diversity and balance among the four school sites as being the most important. The two options up for consideration exclude movement of Sierra View students, with anticipation of east end growth in the coming years.
“A new school has to be enrollment driven,” Malone said, addressing the question of why not build a new school? “What we mean by enrollment driven is that all of our school sites have to be at maximum capacity, currently we don’t have that. It is not fiscally responsible to build sites, when we have existing space in our existing school sites.”
Of the boundary proposed options a shift of students will go from Fair Oaks to Magnolia and from Magnolia to Cloverland. Implementation will begin with the 2016-17 school year and will only affect TK and Kindergarten students, as well as any move ins.
“The students that are currently at their school now, under open enrollment or are in their boundary ... they would stay there,” Malone said. “No one would change. Our Inter and Intra District transfers are renewed on a yearly basis, so there is nothing new that is going on there.
“We’ve tried to soften the blow as best as we could,” he continued. “We could have decided we’re just going to enforce the boundaries and cut right there, but that doesn’t behoove everybody.”
He also recognized that shifting students is rarely well-received.
“Nobody likes to do a boundary study,” Malone confided. “No district likes to do a boundary study because they’re unpopular, but just because they’re unpopular doesn’t mean that we still don’t deal with the issue that we have before us.”
While the boundary rezoning will affect students at the three elementary schools, parents were reminded they are still able to exercise their rights to use Open Enrollment as well as Inter and Intra District transfer requests. Malone made note that with each case it is on a space available basis and that may and does vary by school site as well as grade level.
Following the 30-minute presentation, he encouraged the audience members to participate in the survey, which will be reviewed by the board. Malone then opened the forum to questions from the audience.
Of the questions posed, the one most recurring was that of the family with the incoming kindergartner whose student would be redirected to a campus other than that of their older siblings.
“To tear the older sibling away from their friends to go to a new school, because your incoming kindergartner is affected by this is difficult for families,” an audience member posed. “I’m wondering how many kids really are impacted by that situation?”
“The answer to that question is that at some point in time, we’ve got to make the move,” Malone responded. “That’s as least painful as we can make the move. Eventually we’ve got to make the move and this is as least painful as we can make it.”
Audience members also challenged the efficiency of the boundary study from 10 years ago, prior to the movement conducted to the opening of Sierra View elementary school, posing the question as to why this all was not considered at that time.
Malone addressed the question, noting that study was overseen by a different superintendent and school board who made the decision they felt necessary at the time. As for the boundary study, it is his opinion that a responsible district re-evaluates boundaries every five to 10 years.
OJUSD parents, as well as community members can access the slide presentation as well as FAQ’s from the Boundary Study at www.ojusd.org. The study will be reviewed and potentially voted on by the OJUSD school board at their next meeting on Monday, March 14. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Oakdale City Council Chambers.