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School officials leery of changing boundaries

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Shifting attendance zones for Shenandoah County public schools would affect more than 1,000 students, officials learned Thursday.

Superintendent B. Keith Rowland updated the School Board on the district's efforts to tackle the overcrowding problem faced at some facilities while others operate under capacity.

Rowland provided more information requested at a recent board work session, including estimates on the effect boundary line adjustments could have on student populations. Data showed that adjusting the boundaries as suggested in one scenario would affect more than 1,000 students or 361 families, according to Rowland.

"A thousand students affected by a boundary adjustment is a lot," Rowland said.

"So the big question is, 'is it worth it?'" said Chairman Gary L. Rutz.

Board member Sonya W. Giersch echoed Rutz and noted such an adjustment could disrupt those families.

Rowland also presented information that tries to predict how adjusting the boundaries, by moving part of the northern zone into the central area, may affect bus commutes. The superintendent provided scenarios involving five random students attending Central High School whose bus rides would change as a result of shifting them to other schools. Some of the students' bus rides would increase by close to 30 minutes while for one other the commute time would decrease slightly, according to Rowland.

"This is really a shot in the dark because we really don't have routes we can compare it to," Rowland said. "This probably isn't the most reliable, data but it's the best we're going to get."

Board members also expressed concerns about how the district could enforce attendance zones. A map presented to the board showed that many students attend schools outside their attendance zone.

The division may see relief from growth in the near future. A study by the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia shows the county can expect its school population to increase for another year before the numbers start to decline, according to Rowland.

Rowland noted that housing sites across the county remain unfinished or undeveloped -- perhaps an advantage for the school system.

"If the economy had continued to grow, we'd be in dire straits," Rowland said.

Rutz requested Rowland bring back data to reflect the attendance at facilities if the district moved the fifth grade to the middle school. The chairman indicated he would like the board to continue to discuss the issue with all members present. Karen S. Whetzel did not attend the meeting. Rutz noted the board, should it decide to make any adjustments to the attendance zones, would not do so before early next year, given the time it would take to continue the discussion and to hold the required public hearing.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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