rezoning public hearings

Maps showing some of the Richmond school rezoning options were on display during a public hearing at Bellevue Elementary on Nov. 25. Another special meeting was held on Monday before the board vote.

The Richmond School Board held a special meeting Monday focused entirely on rezoning that included a two-hour-plus final public hearing dominated by discussion of “pairing” schools.

The School Board, which was scheduled to finally vote on new school zones at the meeting, had not done so by press time.

“This has been a daunting task — a huge undertaking,” School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page said of the rezoning process at the special meeting, held in the auditorium at E.S.H. Greene Elementary School in the city’s South Side.

As of 10 p.m., board members had not yet reached consensus on new boundaries and how to address:

  • extensive overcrowding in South Richmond;
  • a projected 6.6% enrollment increase over the next decade, from 24,390 students this year to 25,993 in 2028-29; and
  • a school system in which three schools — Linwood Holton, William Fox and Mary Munford — enroll roughly 70% of the school system’s white elementary school students.

To address the latter, the board is considering pairing schools, which would combine schools to make one attendance zone and send students to one school for some grades and the other school for other grades. Pairing was included in two of the four rezoning proposals recommended to the School Board by a rezoning special committee.

In one of those proposals, students would go to Linwood Holton Elementary for third through fifth grades, while Ginter Park and Barack Obama elementary schools would serve students in kindergarten through second grade.

Mary Munford Elementary would have students in third through fifth grades, and students would attend George W. Carver Elementary for kindergarten through second grade. Fox and John B. Cary elementary schools also would be combined, with students going to Fox for kindergarten through third grade and Cary for fourth and fifth grades.

In another proposal, students would go to Munford through second grade, and then Cary for third through fifth grades.

Like it has been throughout the rezoning process, pairing was a hot topic at Monday’s final public hearing.

“Education policy changes alone aren’t going to change our racist society, but it’s a darn good place to start,” said Kim Gomez, one of the 1st District representatives on the special committee.

Paula Katz, a teacher at Mary Munford, said: “I disagree with this social experiment at the expense of our children.”

During the special session, several board members indicated support for a plan that does not pair schools, but redraws school lines across all parts of the city.

The plan — officially called Proposal Y — would fill the new Greene Elementary, which is being rebuilt to fit 1,000 students, as well as a new middle school on Hull Street Road and a replacement for George Mason Elementary.

In the city’s North Side, Ginter Park, Holton and Barack Obama all would give and take some students to make the schools more diverse. The biggest impact would be felt by Holton, which would send 76 students to Obama and 118 students to Ginter Park, according to the plans recommended to the board by the special committee.

About 1,000 elementary school students total would change schools.

Under Proposal Y, John Marshall High School would send 130 students to Thomas Jefferson High, the biggest change at the high school level in any of the plans.

New zones are set to take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

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Twitter: @jmattingly306

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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