By Sadie Hunter
Two months ago, Noblesville Schools announced its intention to again rebalance its boundaries at the elementary school level, affecting three schools on the east side of the city.
Now, the district is preparing to move approximately 100 students from their current school to balance enrollment for the 2017-18 school year, affecting three elementary schools: Promise Road, Stony Creek and North.
No students will be moved from North Elementary, but with an objective to reduce booming numbers at Promise Road and give it room for future growth, approximately 89 current Promise Road students will be moved to Stony Creek, and approximately 13 current Stony Creek students will be moved to North, essentially creating a north-moving domino effect across the three buildings.
“Probably the most important reason as to why we needed to do some rebalancing of our boundaries is to avoid a $20 million expenditure to the taxpayers,” said Robin Phelps, executive director of business at Noblesville Schools. “We have this bubble in fourth grade, the largest grade, and then we see a decline in the lower grades. As this bubble moves through, it’s going to be really, really tight, but not to the point where we believe we can build an elementary and then have it be under-capacity. It just wouldn’t be the prudent thing to do. So, by tweaking the boundaries and transferring, that was our main goal, to try to avoid that.”
Future forecasts of what the district calls a “leveling out” of growth in its elementary schools is based off a 2015 demographic study of families with school-age children conducted by Jerry McKibben that shows a similar trend throughout Hamilton County – a drop in lower elementary grade enrollment.
“It’s already happened in Carmel,” Phelps said. “We always check our (enrollment) numbers with Hamilton Southeastern, and we are both growing at a lesser rate than what we have over the past several years.”
Specific neighborhoods affected for students moving from Promise Road to Stony Creek include Princeton Lake Apartments, Park Place at Sagamore, Stony Creek Estates and the Stony Lane area. For students moving from Stony Creek to North, the affected area is Division Street to Pleasant Street between 10th Street and Ind. 37.
The district also looked at its two middle schools to determine if any changes would need to be made, but the rebalancing committee’s final proposal does not include boundary changes for East or West. West Middle School on Hague Road is attended by approximately 300 more students than East, but the building is also larger than East Middle School on Field Drive.
“What the committee wanted to do was move a small group of students just to utilize all the space,” Phelps said. “Promise Road is bursting at the seams, so we needed to provide some relief. We are going to have to use some portables at some of the buildings.”
Promise Road utilizes one portable classroom, but the district said it expects to utilize them at all but two (North and White River) elementary schools to accommodate the “enrollment bubble” moving through.
The committee is made up of a parent from each elementary school and each middle school, a school board representative, the director of transportation, the transportation router, the director of operations and the executive director of business.
“As the committee was making its decisions, the criteria used was to efficiently utilize space, relieve schools that exceed functional capacity, keep neighborhoods together so we’re not taking pockets out, consider proximity to the nearest school and also maintain socio-economic balance,” Phelps said.
In an effort to aid over-capacity schools, the rebalancing committee is proposing a stoppage of in-district transfer students from elementary to elementary. Currently, 151 Noblesville Schools students do not attend the school that correlates with the boundary in which they live, not including exceptions made for special needs students. If the proposal is approved by the school board, transfers will no longer be granted, and previously approved transfers will no longer be permitted.
However, whether a student is affected because of rebalancing or the end of a previously granted transfer, with a “grandfathering” clause, the proposal allows current fourth-grade students to stay at their current building if parents choose. Siblings or students of the same household of grandfathered students do not have the option to also be grandfathered, and transportation will not be provided for grandfathered students.
Community meetings and public forums were conducted last month at Stony Creek, Promise Road and North Elementary schools. Committee meetings are expected to continue at the end of the month or in early March in preparation for its March 21 presentation to the school board.
The district has previously said it anticipates having to explore potential boundary changes every two to three years.
In the 2016-17 school year, the district teaches more than 10,200 students.
MEET THE REBALANCING COMMITTEE
- Amanda Heim, East Middle School
- Megan Schlueter, West Middle School
- Justin Rausch, Hazel Dell Elementary
- John Rinker, Hinkle Creek Elementary
- Stacie Zeck, Noble Crossing Elementary
- Kristen Hinds, North Elementary
- Jamie Boe, Promise Road Elementary
- Emily Wisnewski, Stony Creek Elementary
- Brendan Stitcher, White River Elementary
- Brian Zachery, director of transportation
- Judy Way, transportation router
- Jeff Bragg, director of operations (former)
- Robin Phelps, exectuve director of business
- Kevin Kalstead, trustee