School proposal worries parents

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Some see rezoning plan for 380 Corridor students as short-term solution

Parents living within the U.S. Highway 380 Corridor are concerned the Denton school district’s proposal to rezone approximately 120 students from Paloma Creek Elementary School to Providence Elementary School next fall is a short-term fix for the growing population in the eastern region.

On Wednesday and Thursday, officials with the Denton school district presented a proposal that if approved, would rezone students living in the southeast portion of the Paloma Creek Elementary attendance zone to Providence Elementary for the 2013-14 year.

The proposal also rezones the southeast portion of the Savannah Elementary School boundary, not currently occupied by students, to Providence Elementary.

Students entering the fifth grade in the 2013-14 year and their siblings are being granted the option to remain at Paloma Creek Elementary provided they apply for an in-district transfer and parents and/or guardians furnish transportation.

A combined 50 to 60 people attended this week’s two public hearings.

District officials say the proposal is an effort to balance student populations, prepare for future growth and work with constituents.

“We’re trying to balance student populations over time,” Rod Reeves, the facilities and planning coordinator for Denton schools, told attendees at Thursday’s public meeting. “We’re trying to keep developments together and zones together as best as we can.”

Reeves said the district is seeing a higher number of students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The district’s elementary schools are designed to have six sections for each grade level.

Currently, Reeves said Paloma Creek Elementary has eight sections of kindergarten classes and seven sections for first grade.

Elementary schools in the district are built for a capacity of 740 students, according to Reeves. Based on current enrollment figures, Paloma Creek Elementary is over capacity with 743 students and Providence Elementary enrollment currently stands at 502.

Since 2004, the school district has built five schools along the 380 Corridor. According to data presented to the public by district officials, the Paloma Creek South development is one of the fastest growing in the district.

Construction for a 22nd elementary campus was approved by voters in a 2007 bond package, but the school board has not yet determined the location for the school or when it might be constructed, Reeves said.

Land has been acquired by the district for a future elementary site within the U.S. 380 Corridor at the intersection where Navo Road turns into Villa Paloma Boulevard, Reeves said.

Robert Bostic, assistant superintendent for academic programs, said the district doesn’t have the growth or bonding capacity to build new schools now. In order for the district to build new schools, the state Legislature either has to remove the “50 cent cap” or raise it, he said.

Under current law, the maximum interest and sinking tax rate a district could ask taxpayers for to repay bonds that fund new school construction is 50 cents per $100 valuation. The Denton school district’s current interest and sinking tax rate is 49 cents.

District officials and school board members have previously argued an amendment to the 50 cent cap that would provide the district the capacity to build new schools to meet enrollment growth demands.

It would shorten the repayment period for new bond sales and reduce interest costs.

The school district is preparing to refinance $25.3 million in bonds to save $1.5 million in interest.

Reeves said he hopes the next modification to attendance boundaries along U.S. 380 is for a new elementary school.

“We can’t promise that, but that’s our intention,” he said.

Leah Edman, mother of a Paloma Creek Elementary kindergartner, calls the proposal unfair.  She said it’s something that emotionally damages students.

“We have lived in Paloma Creek almost six years, and we were promised from our builder, Beazer, that there would be an elementary school built for [the last] seven years,” she said. “I find this is a crisis.”

One would think this issue would go to the state level and emergency assistance granted, Edman said. Houses continue to be built in her area, she said, yet there are no additional schools being built to accommodate student enrollment growth.  

She said it concerns her that the district can’t give a clear answer on when a new school will be built along the U.S. 380 Corridor.

“They knew this area was booming,” Edman said. “It’s been booming for a while now. They can’t say they didn’t know. There’s no excuse that they have not built an elementary and high school on the south end of Navo [Road].”

Octave Picot, a father of a Paloma Creek Elementary second-grader, said that based on student enrollment growth along U.S. 380, he’s concerned the district could be redrawing attendance boundaries again in a few years. 

District officials, Picot said, have expressed concern that they want to keep communities together, but he believes a proposal that moves students to a new campus does the opposite.

“They’re always talking about they don’t want to break up a community,” he said. “Well, you are breaking up a community.” 

It’s an emotional issue, Picot said, and ultimately he’d like to see residents’ voices heard.

Tim Davis, a father of a three who all attend Paloma Creek Elementary, said that while he understands the proposal’s logic, initially he doesn’t agree with it. He said he believes district officials are trying to stay within a “rigid set of guidelines instead of something a little more fluid.”

He said it concerns him district officials couldn’t answer about when a new school would be built on U.S. 380.

“This is a short-term fix for a long-term problem,” Davis said. “They were asked several times about the new school, and the only answer they give is it’s not in the budget.”

No action was taken on the proposal at the Wednesday and Thursday public meetings.

The proposal, public concerns and comments are scheduled to be brought before the Denton school board at an Oct. 23 meeting. Reeves said the board could consider action on the proposal next month. 

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com.

 


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