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story.lead_photo.caption Rodney Robinson of Centerton helps a student cross the street on Friday at Old High Middle School in Bentonville.

Enrollment growth and the construction of new schools are pushing area school districts to think about attendance boundaries.

The Bentonville School District is expected to decide within the next several weeks whether to make attendance zone changes that would take effect next school year, Superintendent Debbie Jones said. Rogers officials are gearing up for rezoning of their elementary schools. And Fayetteville is awaiting a demographics report that could recommend zone changes.

Web watch

Here’s where to find maps of school attendance zone boundaries for Northwest Arkansas’ four largest school districts.

Bentonville: www.bentonvillek12.org/domain/4642

Fayetteville: webapps.fayar.net/maps/map3.html

Rogers: 52.6.17.113/infolocator/InfoLocator/Locator.aspx?OrgGuid=ORG-ROGERS

Springdale: sites.google.com/a/sdale.org/sps/divisions/support-services/transportation/maps-and-zones

Source: Staff report

Rogers will open a new elementary school in fall 2019 and wants to complete the rezoning of elementary boundaries by next spring. Those changes, however, won't take effect until the new elementary opens, according to officials.

It will be the first time Rogers has changed attendance boundaries since 2013, when Darr Elementary School opened. The process will start in January and run through the spring, said Ashley Siwiec, district director of communications.

"It would be our goal to allow students to know what elementary school they will be attending a year before it happens," Siwiec wrote in an email. "We don't necessarily think we will have to change middle school boundaries but we will always take a look at the impact of the new elementary school."

Rogers is opening its 16th elementary school on the southern portion of 80 acres the district owns at West Garrett and South Bellview roads.

District staff members will lead the rezoning process and will create a boundary committee that includes staff and parents, according to Siwiec.

"We'll study several options with the committee, report out to the public for more input and make a recommendation to the board," she wrote.

The last time the Fayetteville School District made a significant change to boundary lines was in 2006 with the opening of Owl Creek School.

Templeton Demographics, based in Southlake, Texas, is working on a demographic report for the district that's due this month. The School Board is scheduled to hear a presentation from the firm on Oct. 31, said John L Colbert, associate superintendent for support services.

"Right now they're gathering all the information about things like housing, attendance zones, academic capacities," Colbert said. "Once they compile that, we will look at the recommendation and consider it. Zoning may be one of the things, but we don't know that."

Superintendent Matthew Wendt said in June the study was needed to verify staff and community members' observations of enrollment patterns and to know whether discussions are needed on attendance zone adjustments.

Fayetteville's enrollment was 9,889 as of Oct. 2. The district has grown by an average of 150 students per year over the past five years, according to Arkansas Department of Education data.

The Springdale School District will not rezone before next year. Springdale rarely, if ever, changes zones without opening a new building, district communications director Rick Schaeffer said. The district is targeting 2019 or 2020 for opening a new elementary school, he said.

Bentonville plans to open its 12th elementary school in time for the 2019-20 school year, which would necessitate a change in elementary attendance zones. But it's possible the district could decide to rearrange those boundaries and put them into effect a year early, as it did in advance of Osage Creek Elementary and Creekside Middle schools' openings this fall.

The new boundaries included zones for Osage Creek Elementary and Creekside Middle schools, even though both schools didn't open for another year. Other schools held Osage Creek's and Creekside's students last year.

Matt Burgess, a Bentonville School Board member, said having the zoning done early was a "big win" because it allowed families to know their school in advance if they were moving into the district.

"I don't think we've had a lot of people calling up and saying, 'I had no idea my kid was going to this particular school,'" Burgess said.

The board last week unanimously approved building the 12th elementary school on 40 acres it owns on Haxton Road, just south of Bentonville city limits. The district is seeing its greatest growth in its south and west sectors.

Bentonville still has some capacity issues at the elementary level despite the opening of an elementary school this year. Elm Tree and Central Park elementary schools are operating above building capacity and Mary Mae Jones Elementary is at 99 percent capacity, according to Tanya Sharp, executive director of student services.

If Bentonville decides to go ahead with rezoning attendance boundaries for next school year, the process would have to be complete by January, Sharp said.

Kirk Barnett has two children at Bentonville's Willowbrook Elementary School and is in his second year as president of the school's parent teacher organization. He mentioned one rather large neighborhood in the area has been flip-flopped back and forth between Willowbrook's and Central Park's zone.

Parents are less likely to get involved in their child's school if they're uncertain whether their child will be there more than a year, Barnett said.

"It impacts PTO membership. It impacts willingness of parents to donate their money, time, resources, whatever it is," he said. "It doesn't feel like the school board always takes that into account."

Barnett said he feels the district should communicate more with Bentonville's Planning Commission in order to achieve better zoning outcomes.

"People want to move into Bentonville because of the schools. But the constant influx is putting the district at such a disadvantage because of having to chase this population growth," he said.

The district, when redesigning attendance boundaries, examines its enrollment and capacities at each building and the growth within the zones, Sharp said.

"We want to make sure we're doing long-range planning as well as looking at how many students have to move," she said. "We want the fewest students to have to move."

Bentonville is reviewing junior high boundaries as well, Sharp said. The three junior high schools hold nearly 2,500 students in grades seven and eight. Fulbright Junior High School, in the district's southwest quadrant, has the highest population with about 920 students. Some Fulbright teachers are sharing classrooms because of space restrictions there, Sharp said.

NW News on 10/09/2017

Print Headline: Northwest Arkansas school districts considering attendance zone changes

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