Richmond Public Schools kicked off a series of public feedback sessions on potential new school zones Wednesday.
The community meetings, each an hour long, were the first since the latest round of rezoning options were unveiled earlier this week. Those options include the “pairing” of elementary schools — combining schools to make one attendance zone and sending students to one school for some grades and the other school for others — an idea that is not new to the city’s rezoning process, but featured several new schools that would be combined.
The meetings, held at the North Avenue Branch Library, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and George Mason Elementary School, led to no new revelations about the potential new zones. Rather, parents and other community members asked questions and shared feedback on the plans that were drafted by Ohio-based Cropper GIS.
Some people specifically raised issue with the timeline for rezoning.
No vote has been taken on the new school zones; a decision is expected by the city School Board by the end of the calendar year. The new zones would take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“Implementation timelines for pairing options need to be revisited,” one parent said on an anonymous poster board the district put up at each of the three meetings for the pros and cons of each option.
Worries about the timeline were also raised Monday night at an unofficial meeting held at Albert Hill Middle School, during which parents from Mary Munford Elementary School, which would be combined with John B. Cary Elementary School in one option, voiced mixed support about the idea.
“There’s a concern that there’s a rush to do this in this timeline and it’s not going to be done well,” a Munford parent said Wednesday night.
Matthew Cropper, the consultant hired by the district to help lead the rezoning process, said Wednesday that the district’s timeline is “common.”
The school system has three new schools scheduled to open in the fall of 2020. One new school, E.S.H. Greene, is being built to house 1,000 students and alleviate some severe overcrowding in the South Side.
Still, a special rezoning committee appointed by the School Board has said the process alone won’t fix overcrowding south of the James River.
“All the schools are overcrowded so there’s not much we can do,” Cropper said. “The new construction is not going to provide all the relief that [Richmond] needs.”
The average capacity of the elementary schools south of the James is over 100%.
Several community members asked about the cost of implementing the rezoning plans, specifically for the “pairing” options. Those proposals include combining Munford and Cary (Option B); William Fox and Carver elementary schools (Option B); Ginter Park and Holton elementary schools (Option B); Fox and Cary (Option C); and a three-way school zone with Barack Obama Elementary School and Ginter Park having students for kindergarten through second grade before students go to Holton for third through fifth grades (Option C).
Cropper said the cost isn’t being factored into the decisions of the rezoning committee.
The district had scheduled three community meetings for Tuesday night but those meetings were postponed because of the threat of severe weather.
A district spokesman said Wednesday that those meetings — originally planned for the Bellevue Branch Library, Fox Elementary School and George Wythe High School — are still being rescheduled.
The rezoning committee is set to meet again next week. Once that committee has a recommendation, it will send it to the city School Board, which has the final say on new school zones.
“We’re hopeful that they’ll take the recommendation in totality,” said Shadae Harris, the school district’s chief engagement officer and a member of the rezoning committee.
More community meetings are scheduled for Thursday at Hull Street Library (4-5 p.m.), Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School (5:30-6:30 p.m.) and Southside Community Services Center (7-8 p.m.).