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ROGERS -- The process of redesigning the School District's elementary school attendance zones will not happen this spring as planned.

The district will wait until fall to rezone for the 2019-20 school year so officials will have a better idea of what enrollment will be when the changes take effect, said Charles Lee, assistant superintendent for general administration.

Elementary 16

The Rogers School District’s 16th elementary school will be an 89,000-square-foot building with a capacity of 716 students. It’s expected to be completed by June 2019. It’s been estimated the school will cost $23 million.

Source: Staff report

Rezoning is necessary because the district's 16th elementary school is scheduled to open in August 2019. Officials initially said they'd begin working on the boundary redesign this month and finish the job this spring, allowing families to know a year in advance where their children would be going to school.

"If we wait a little bit and see what our enrollment numbers are in August, maybe that will help us," Lee said.

The tentative plan is to have the rezoning process finished by the end of 2018, which would inform families of their school assignments more than seven months before the new school year begins, Lee said.

Superintendent Marlin Berry, addressing the School Board at its last meeting, said changing attendance boundaries can be a difficult and challenging task, but also an exciting one.

"We're going to get to tell some families and kids they'll get to help open a new building, and that's an exciting time," Berry said. "They will leave friends behind, but those kids who remain at our other elementaries will actually have more space."

A committee will redraw boundaries, hold public meetings and be "very transparent" in the process, Berry said.

The Bentonville School Board last month approved a new attendance zone map that will take effect when its next elementary school opens, also in the fall of 2019.

The Rogers district's 16th elementary school will be built on 25 acres of an 80-acre property the district owns on West Garrett Road in the southwest part of the city. Officials plan to choose a name for the school by May and a principal by November, Lee said.

In the meantime, a retired central-office administrator is compiling enrollment projections that will help when it comes to rezoning.

David Cauldwell regularly did enrollment projections when he was the district's business manager from 1988 to 2013. He agreed to work under contract to help with the same task when district officials approached him a few months ago.

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"That was part of the job, and I think in the past four to five years, given some of the turnover within the district, they lost some of that. People weren't used to doing that," Cauldwell said.

Cauldwell will do enrollment projections by elementary school zone using the district's enrollment data from the recent past and birth data from the county, he said.

Another part of Cauldwell's assignment is to identify properties the district should consider buying in certain areas. The availability of good sites for future schools is diminishing, he said.

Lee said administrators are looking at acquiring land for the 17th elementary school but said no purchases are imminent. He added the district is looking at land all over town.

"We know we have some large growth areas in the southwest corner, that doesn't mean we're ignoring the possibility of an elementary on the north side," Lee said. "Not saying that's going to occur, but we're looking at all options."

Cauldwell, who still lives in the Rogers area, said he doesn't intend to do much consulting work after this job. The district has people who can pick up the enrollment-projection task and continue it annually.

"Once I get them caught up with it, they'll be able to do it pretty easily," he said.

Enrollment projections have a very real financial impact on school districts.

In June 2016, the Rogers School Board voted unanimously to decline $2.3 million from the state's Academic Facilities Partnership Program to help pay for construction of an elementary school. That decision was based on projections Rogers' elementary-level enrollment would decline slightly over the next five years. The state aid was contingent on the district completing the building project within four years.

The district's recent growth has defied those projections, however. Elementary enrollment as of Oct. 1 was 7,453, an increase of 5 percent from two years earlier, according to Arkansas Department of Education data.

Faced with the unexpected enrollment increase, the board last spring pursued a 3.5-mill tax increase, which passed by a substantial margin. Most of the money raised will go toward construction of the 16th and 17th elementary schools.

NW News on 01/30/2018

Print Headline: Rogers district putting off rezoning discussion

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